Nadine Elali


Lucien Bourjeily has been banned from leaving Lebanon


While preparing to represent Lebanon at next month’s London International Festival of Theatre, Lebanese filmmaker and stage director Lucien Bourjeily – known for his activism against censorship – is being prevented by Lebanon’s General Security from traveling to the British capital and performing his play, “A Vanishing State.”


“They refused to tell me why they confiscated my passport,” Bourjeily told NOW. “They insinuated that it was something I had done back in 2013.” Last year Bourjeily had written and directed the play “Bto2ta3 aw ma bto2ta3?,” a satirical comedy about the censorship bureau that was banned in Lebanon but earned the director a nomination for the Index on Censorship’s 2014 Freedom of Expression Award.


Bourjeily had submitted his passport for renewal at General Security headquarters in Beirut earlier this week. When he returned to collect it, the administrative employee refused to hand it over without providing any justification.


After Bourjeily pleaded for answers, he told NOW, the employee mockingly said, “You know why.” He then requested that Bourjeily leave the building, notifying him to expect a call back in a month or two.


According to legal expert Marwan Saker, General Security does not have the right to confiscate passports unless requested to do so by the general prosecutor’s office. “Sometimes during an investigation, the general prosecutor office may request security forces to confiscate a personal passport, but only temporarily so as to guarantee that the accused does not flee the country,” Saker explained. “There may be an ongoing investigation taking place that he [Bourjeily] is not aware of. In this case, he needs to appoint a lawyer who should inform the general prosecutor’s office, which will look into the reasons why [the passport was confiscated].”


Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that “everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state,” said Lea Baroudi, co-founder of MARCH, an NGO dedicated to freedom of expression issues in Lebanon, and which had produced Bourjeily’s 2013 play.


“General Security is openly violating our basic human rights to expression and movement,” Baroudi told NOW, “and they are overstepping the law by pressing its citizen into submission.”


In a conversation with NOW, Baroudi accused General Security of bullying and intimidating citizens to prevent them from airing criticism.


“Previously, they used the present outdated media laws to ban the play ‘Bto2ta3 aw ma bto2ta3.’ But in this case,” she stressed, “they have no legal backing. They are behaving like authoritarian regimes.”


“They are practically punishing [Bourjeily] because he dared to provoke them,” she said.


Following the confiscation of Bourjeily’s passport, MARCH representatives contacted the Ministry of Interior, which in turn promised to launch an investigation into the filmmaker’s case. Bourjeily later met with Minister of Interior Nouhad Mashnouq, who informed him that he should be able to collect his passport today. However, when he went to collect his passport, he was once again turned down.


“What a high price we have to pay as Lebanese citizens for freedom of expression and in our fight against corruption and censorship,” Bourjeily lamented. “I was banned from expressing my personal opinion, and now I am banned from traveling. I am officially under house arrest. This is not only a message for me: this is a message for anyone who dares to criticize General Security.”


“But I will not be silenced,” he insisted. “I refuse to be silenced. There is no meaning to life if it means giving up my values and my freedom to express my opinions.”


According to both Bourjeily and Baroudi, returning the passport is only the first step. Both activists see it as vital that General Security employees be held accountable and reprimanded.


“We demand transparency,” Baroudi said. “We need to know who these people were and why they do what they do and for what purpose. We will raise this issue to the minister of interior and use legal proceedings to protect anybody who practices freedom of expression.” 

Lucien Bourjeily's request for General Security to "reconsider" his case. (Image courtesy of Bourjeily's Facebook page)

“What a high price we have to pay as Lebanese citizens for freedom of expression and in our fight against corruption and censorship.”

  • sakr.joe

    This is pathetic... Slippery authoritarianism slope. Beware of free spirited Lebanese backlash!

    May 23, 2014