Palestinian prisoner released in Lebanon

A Palestinian imprisoned for 15 years for a murder he has always denied committing was released on Monday after being granted a presidential pardon.

Yusef Cha’ban, a Palestinian refugee resident in Lebanon, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Justice Council in 1994 after he was convicted in connection with the killing of a Jordanian diplomat, Na’ib Omran al-Ma’aita, in Beirut.

At his trial, he alleged that he was tortured in detention and protested his innocence. He remained in prison even after a Jordanian court concluded in 2002 that others were responsible and convicted them of the diplomat’s murder.

Under Lebanese law, the verdicts of the Justice Council are not subject to appeal and cannot be revoked, with the result that miscarriages of justice cannot be readily rectified.

Yusuf Cha’ban was released after Lebanese President Michel Suleiman granted him a special pardon in recognition of the gross miscarriage of justice in his case.

It is not clear why President Suleiman’s predecessors had failed to take such action. In June 2007, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared Yusuf Cha’aban’s continuing detention to be arbitrary and called for the Lebanese authorities to remedy the matter.

Yusuf Cha’aban received a warm welcome when he returned to his home in Burj al-Barajneh refugee camp in south Beirut following his release. A crowd gathered to meet him, women threw rice and flowers in celebration and some men carried Yusuf Cha’ban on their shoulders.

“I will not leave him for a minute; he’s my new friend,” Hanin, his teenage daughter who grew up visiting her father behind bars, told reporters gathering to cover his release.

Amnesty International has greatly welcomed Yusuf Cha’ban’s release. As long ago as December 2007, the organization urged the Lebanese authorities to carry out an urgent, independent review of his case.

Amnesty International also continues to call for reform or abolition of the Justice Council, which fails to satisfy international fair trial standards. It is widely perceived to be influenced by political considerations, its hearings are frequently subject to lengthy delays that undermine the right to fair trial, and there is no right of appeal against its verdicts, even in death penalty cases.