Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 5   No. 7 Table of Contents
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July 2003 


Canadian Evangelical in Lebanon Faces Possible Death Sentence
by Gary C. Gambill

Bruce Balfour

The arrest of a Canadian evangelical Christian in Beirut earlier this month and his indictment on charges of collaboration with Israel has spawned a new round of tensions between Canada and Lebanon.

Bruce Balfour, the field director of Cedars of Lebanon, a project affiliated with the Maranatha Evangelistic Association to replant biblical cedars, which have largely disappeared from Lebanon's central mountains, was arrested upon presenting his passport to the security counter at Beirut International Airport on July 10. According to informed Lebanese sources, he was detained by officers of the General Security Directorate, headed by Jamil al-Sayyid, who answers directly to Syrian military intelligence, usually bypassing Lebanon's civilian authorities. Balfour, 52, was later brought to Roumieh prison, in a suburb northeast of Beirut, and held incommunicado for ten days.

According to his sister, Laura Mackenzie, Canadian diplomats in Beirut did not learn of his detention until July 20, when "an informant" in Lebanon notified friends in Canada about his situation. Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which Canada and Lebanon are signatories, Beirut is obliged to inform Ottawa within 48 hours if it arrests a Canadian citizen. As MEIB went to press, the Canadian government had received no explanation for why the Lebanese authorities kept Balfour's detention secret for so long and Lebanon's ambassador to Canada, Raymond Baaklini, had declined all requests for interviews.

On July 22, Balfour was finally allowed to write a letter explaining his predicament to the Canadian ambassador to Lebanon. "I was arrested because a computer entry said that I have been in Israel at one time . . . please tell me where the crime in this is," he wrote, adding that he had tried in vain to contact the Canadian embassy in Beirut, but without success. "This is against all international law and moral code of every civilized country in the world. I need to get out of here now, every hour multiplies the possibility of my being moved to another location and disappearing forever."[1]

Western travelers to the Jewish state normally ask Israeli border officials not to stamp their passports if they intend to subsequently visit Arab countries not at peace with Israel. It is not known whether Balfour, who visited both Israel and Lebanon on previous occasions, had followed this procedure. Those who don't are typically deported by Lebanese authorities, not imprisoned.

On July 30, the Lebanese government formally notified Canada that Balfour had been indicted under military law with "crimes of collaborating with the enemy," a charge that carries a possible death sentence. According to Lebanese Prosecutor-General Adnan Addoum, a military court issued an arrest warrant for Balfour a few months prior to his arrival in Beirut because he had been traveling between Israel and Lebanon in a "suspicious" manner. According to Lebanese judicial sources, Balfour was accused of traveling to southern Lebanon to gather information about Lebanese military and Hezbollah positions in the region during two previous visits in 2002.

Balfour is scheduled to appear before a military court on August 11. Reynald Doiron, a spokesperson for Canada's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that there is little his government can do now that he has been formally charged, except monitor the progress of the case and ensure that he receives a fair trial. He told reporters that "there is no reason to over-dramatize" the incident.[2] This has outraged evangelical Christians and opponents of Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

A spokesman for Cedars of Lebanon in Calgary, Fred Von Vlot, accused the Canadian government of failing to act forcefully to secure Balfour's release. "They're playing a chess game according to the other guy's agenda. And the other guy's agenda does not follow international law," he said.[3] Canadian Alliance MP Stockwell Day said that Balfour's treatment was indicative of how the Chrétien government's "flawed and failed" foreign policy allows Canadians abroad to be mistreated, pointing also to the recent death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in Iran. "It is clear that tyrannical undemocratic governments have no fear about mistreating Canadians because there are no consequences to their action . . . the Canadian government should be demanding his immediate release."[4] Day later said that the $200-million aid package Canada pledged to Lebanon in November should be withdrawn until his release is secured.

This is not the first time that Canadian public figures have called upon the government to reconsider its generous provision of economic assistance to Lebanon. In January, Ambassador Baaklini made headlines when he declared that Zionists control 90% of the media in Canada and accused the government of treating all bearded men as terrorist suspects.

Notes

  [1] "Canadian Held in Lebanese Prison," Ottawa Citizen, 28 July 2003.
  [2] "Ottawa won't overdramatize case of Canadian jailed in Lebanon," Agence France Presse, 31 July 2003.
  [3] "Calgarian's arrest violates world rules: Canada demands Lebanese explanation," Ottawa Citizen, 29 July 2003.
  [4] "Canadian Held in Lebanese Prison," Ottawa Citizen, 28 July 2003.


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