By: Othman Tazghart
Wednesday afternoon, a large crowd gathered outside Lannemezan prison in the southwest of France. They were commemorating the 28th anniversary of the arrest of the longest held Arab prisoner of conscience in France, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah.
One day earlier, Abdallah’s lawyer, Jacques Vergès, had stood facing the court, for the eighth time in nine years, to request the enactment of the decision of the regional court of parole authorizing his release in October 2003.
During that time, the French government managed to block the decision to free Abdallah using several bureaucratic pretexts.
The protest outside his prison saw Vergès leading around 200 people, mainly consisting of human rights and leftist activists, in addition to members of the International Solidarity Committee for Georges Ibrahim Abdallah.
The cheers and chants from his supporters sounded loud enough to reach him inside his cell. They called for his release and supported his perseverance in the face of the extortion practiced by the French courts.
French authorities are demanding that Abdallah apologize, express regret, and repudiate his revolutionary ideas and actions, in order to implement his legal parole. He was accused of participating in commando operations carried out by the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions, though the court had no concrete evidence against him.
The demonstrators repeated slogans condemning the bias of French courts and chanted, “28 years of jail, 28 years of resistance,” in an attempt to lift his spirits.
As for the hearing held almost 24 hours earlier, Vergès explained that it was postponed for one month and will be held on November 21.
Despite a change in the tone of French authorities in relation to Abdallah’s case, the lawyer said he was not optimistic.
“The public prosecutor would not give up on the logic of extortion and kept demanding an apology from Abdallah and an expression of remorse for his acts,” Vergès added.
He explained that “the condition of expression of remorse only applies to crimes against the public interest. But Georges Ibrahim Abdallah is a prisoner of conscience. He was arrested because he was a communist and an international revolutionary struggling for the Palestinian cause.”
“Demanding that he repudiates his revolutionary convictions is a form of extortion and excess from the French judiciary,” he continued.
“Abdallah categorically refuses to kneel in front of his jailers. Although we know very well that his refusal to yield is the only reason why he remains in prison,” the lawyer told the protesters.
Abdallah was arrested on 24 October 1984 and was given a life sentence in a controversial hearing, which was considered a stain on the French legal system.
The trial suffered from numerous flaws, beginning with using some of Abdallah’s lawyers to spy on him. Evidence against him was also fabricated retroactively by French, US and Israeli intelligence.
“We acted like bullies in the Abdallah case. It is time put an end to the great injustice we put him through,”
These facts were confirmed by the former chief of French intelligence, Ives Bonnet, late last year. “We acted like bullies in the Abdallah case. It is time put an end to the great injustice we put him through,” he said, describing the actions of French authorities.
France has kept Abdallah in custody for 28 years despite the fact that prisoners are legally allowed to ask for release on bail after spending 15 years in prison. French law also limits the maximum sentence of any prisoner to 18 years.
Abdallah first applied to be released on bail in 1999, but the court rejected his plea. Other rejections followed, despite the decision to release him by the regional court of parole on 24 October 2003, after spending the maximum term of 18 years.
The French Ministry of Justice, under pressure from the US, has been the main obstacle. US president Barack Obama, for example, recently vetoed Abdallah’s release.
Obama informed French authorities last April that his administration categorically rejects letting Abdallah out of prison.
The US veto followed French promises made to Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati during his visit to Paris last February that they will take a more lenient approach toward the case.