Beirut , Lebanon- Lebanon's Parliament has unanimously approved Samir Geagea's amnesty bill on Monday July 18. The Lebanese Forces militia leader who is currently serving a life sentence,
is expected to be taken straight from jail to Beirut airport this weekend for a trip with his wife to a European capital, probably London, for extensive medical tests.
Geagea is the only Lebanese warlord to be punished for crimes during the long civil war which ended in 1990. A campaign to get him released has gathered strength since the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri and the withdrawal of Syrian forces.
He led the Lebanese Forces militia during the civil war which formed an alliance with Israel.
During the recent elections the Lebanese forces formed an alliance with Hariri and Jumblatt. His wife Streada won a parliamentary seat in the northern region.
Background information on Samir Geagea:
Samir Geagea (born October 25, 1952) is the imprisoned leader of the Lebanese Forces (LF) militia. Geagea is currently serving several life sentences for crimes allegedly committed during the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990. He remains the only civil war-era leader to have stood trial for crimes committed during the war.
Geagea was born in Ain el-Rummanah in Beirut in 1952 to parents from the Maronite town of Bsharri in the mountains of Northern Lebanon. While studying medicine at the American University of Beirut, he became an active member of the right-wing Phalangist Party, which became the main Christian fighting force upon the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. He steadily rose through the ranks and led several daring operations at the request of Bashir Gemayel, then commander of the Phalangist militia. In 1983, he led the unsuccessful defence of the Shouf Region in Central Lebanon against an onslaught by various Leftist militias that were supported by the Syrian Army. Geagea was appointed head of LF's northern Front in the early 1980s, where he commanded around 1,500 battle-hardened henchmen, drawn mainly from his native town of Bsharri and other towns and villages in Northern Lebanon. This loyal following would later ensure his ascension.
In 1986, Geagea became head of the Lebanese Forces militia (a Phalangist-dominated coalition) after staging a coup against Elie Hobeika, who was widely accused of treachery in the Lebanese Christian sector for agreeing to a Syrian-sponsored accord. Geagea transformed the LF into a formidable fighting force and nurtured links with Iraq, which developed into a major source of weaponry and support due to its animosity towards Syria. He also developed a highly organised civil infrastructure in area's under LF contol.
Geagea initially supported General Michel Aoun's drive to free Lebanon of all foreign forces in 1989. However, he later began to question Aoun's motives in pursuing such a destructive and unpromising war against the much larger Syrian Army and its leftist allies. When Aoun began taking active steps to undermine and dissolve the LF, Geagea resisted violently. This resulted in a devastating war in 1990 between the LF and Lebanese Army units loyal to Aoun.
Aoun's surrender on 13 October 1990 was considered to mark the end of the civil war. Geagea was subsequently offered ministerial portfolios in the new Lebanese government several times. However, he declined on the grounds of opposition to Syrian interference in the internal affairs of Lebanon. In 1994, Geagea was arrested on charges of attempting to undermine government authority by "maintaining a militia in the guise of a political party," of instigating acts of violence, and of committing assassinations during the Lebanese Civil War. Prior to his arrest, he was contacted by several sympathetic politicians and warned about the forthcoming proceedings and offered safe passage out of Lebanon. Geagea refused to leave and was subsequently arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment on several different counts. Many members of the LF were allegedly subjected to horrific torture techniques in the process of being interrogated, resulting in the death of at least one LF official under interrogation. The evidence used by the Lebanese authorities to convict Geagea was widely viewed as unreliable, circumstantial, and inconsistent. Human rights groups including Amnesty International decried the judicial process leading to his conviction as seriously flawed and politically motivated. He remains incarcerated in solitary confinement in a small cell three floors underground in the Lebanese Ministry of Defense, with his access to the outside world severely restricted.
Since his incarceration, support for Geagea among Lebanese Christians has remained high, and by some accounts has even increased despite constant harassment by the Lebanese authorities. The Lebanese Forces today constitutes the fastest growing movement among Lebanese Christian students and professionals and has scored some significant victories in elections to municipal and university bodies. Despite widespread calls for his release by notable politicians and clerics, the Lebanese Government has stubbornly refused to grant Geagea a pardon. Geagea is said to have rejected an offer of a presidential pardon that would have restricted his ability to participate in political activity.
Speaking to a delegation from the Lebanese Parliament's Human Rights Committee, which visited him in prison in November 2004, Geagea said, "I would prefer to remain in prison for another 20 years than bargain my beliefs for freedom." Calls for his release have intensified since the Cedar Revolution and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005. Several public figures have openly conceded that Geagea's arrest, trial, and incarceration were engineered by the Syrian-backed political order in response to his movement's hostile stance towards the Syrian presence in Lebanon.
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