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LEBANON: Popular musician briefly detained for defaming president

July 28, 2011 | 12:14 am

Zeid Zeid Hamdan, 35, singer, composer and producer in the Lebanese band Zeid and the Wings was briefly imprisoned Wednesday morning for defaming Lebanese President Michel Suleiman in his single "General Suleiman."

Before Suleiman was elected as President of the Republic, he served as General of the army.

Hamdan, who was held at the prison of the Palace of Justice in Beirut, wrote on his Facebook wall that he was arrested Wednesday morning. 

"Dear friends, I am now in the prison of the police station of the Palace of Justice in Beirut because of my song 'General Soleiman'. They are prosecuting me for defammation of President Soleiman. I dont know, until when I am staying in prison. Please mobilize!" he wrote on his wall.

News of Hamdan’s arrest spread instantly throughout Facebook, provoking widespread condemnation of the Lebanese security apparatus and inciting the mobilization of several networks of Lebanese activists. 

"Zeid was arrested this afternoon for insulting the President when he said 'General Suleiman..Go Home' in his song," said  Hamdan's lawyer, Nizar Saghieh. His release followed immense public pressure.

According to Saghieh, who posted a statement on Facebook hours after the arrest, "Hamdan was investigated three times in the last few weeks and Prosecutor General Saeed Mirza issued a warrant for his arrest today."

Hamdan faces a maximum penalty of two years in prison, said his lawyer in the statement.

No official decision has been made. 

The song generated country-wide acclaim. A concert celebrating the launch of the band's first album, Asfe, Arabic for storm, was held on Sunday. 

The video clip for the song, directed by the Italian Gigi Roccati and released in 2010, shows average Lebanese who want peace and is shot against colorful frames of the war-torn city of Beirut.

The video generated a lot of controversy last year for its political innuendo, and especially after several Israelis were said to have identified with the landscape and the attitude of the Lebanese in the video. 

"General Suleiman, Peace be upon you, General Suleimen," sings Hamdan to a reggae beat. "Put your weapons down, put your weapons down, now it's time to leave your warlords behind.”

According to Kinda Hassan, the operations manager at the record label Eka', and a colleague of Hamdan's, Lebanese authorities have been targeting Hamdan for the past 3 weeks after they saw the video almost a year after it was uploaded on YouTube. 

"Zeid thought he was going to finish some paperwork when he was called by the Lebanese Palace of Justice. He even rode his bike there," said Hassan.

"I was at his house on Saturday when he told me one of his singers was too afraid of singing at his concert on Sunday because security officers were going to be there," said Matthew Noujaim, a fellow musician and good friend of Hamdan's. 

"I don't get why General Security is doing all this. Lebanese politicians insult the President on TV all the time. Zeid didn't even say anything insulting," he said. "This is all a muscle flexing."

General Security authorities refused to give any official comment on the matter. 

Sadly, it has become a trend for artists to be persecuted these days for "offending the president's dignity," said Hamdan’s lawyer. "This is a blatant violation of the right of freedom of expression. What about the dignity of the citizen?" asked Saghieh. 

"Politicians critical of the president are left alone, but when an artist or regular citizen says anything, they are seized and jailed," he said. "This just goes to show how authorities are classist in implementing the law."

According to Saghieh, "This increasingly obvious over-sensitivity of the regime to any form of criticism of the president is the problem of the regime and not the citizen."

Lebanon appears to have been left behind as a wave of uprisings heralding freedom of speech and democracy push Arab countries to slacken shackles of repression.

Activists had called for demonstrations and protests to be held Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon in front of the Palace of Justice in the capital Beirut if Hamdan is not released.  

-- Roula Hajjar in Beirut

Photo: Zeid Hamdan sings for peace in his 2010 "General Suleiman" video. Credit: YouTube. 

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