Curator Christine Tohme Denied Passport (Beirut, Lebanon)
Christine Tohme, founder and director of the Lebanese Association for the Plastic Arts, Ashkal Alwan, has been denied a passport renewal by Lebanon’s Directorate of General Security due to a warrant against her, according to a statement from Tohme posted to Facebook by the Lebanese artist Tony Chakar:
Two days ago I applied to the Directorate of General Security for a passport renewal. When I went back to get my passport, I was informed that the renewal was suspended, due to a warrant issued against me.
I have no doubt that this warrant is directly linked to the domain of my work, as a director of the Lebanese Association for the Plastic Arts, Ashkal Alwan. As such, the significance of this action against me cannot be understated, as it affects the domain of other civic workers, as well as mine personally.
Using warrants illegally for obstruction of an administrative procedures, such as renewing passports, strips people of their right to mobility and travel. This is an illegal penalty issued by an administrative security authority, not a judiciary one.
Tony Chakar also added: “She is not the only one by the way, but I will refrain from naming others until I know they want to be named.”
A report submitted to the United Nations in March 2015 by the free expression advocacy groups Freemuse, PEN International, and PEN Lebanon criticized the “broad discretionary powers” of censorship held by the Directorate of General Security and concluded that “Lebanon is failing to abide by its international commitments to protect fully the artistic freedoms of its citizens.”
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Passport Returned to Curator Christine Tohme After “Arbitrary and Political” Warrant
Curator Christine Tohme’s passport was returned to her on Sunday, January 24, four days after it was taken under circumstances she believes were politically motivated and connected to her work as director of Ashkal Alwan, a leading independent arts center in Beirut.
The Lebanese Directorate of General Security informed Tohme that her passport was being withheld on January 20 after she sought to renew the travel document, which was still valid for one year. The problem, she was told, was a murky warrant issued by Fera’ el Ma’alumat, a domestic security agency (literally, “the Information Branch”). The decision by the security agency to issue a warrant and withhold her passport was in contravention of a July 2014 ruling by the Lebanese Council of Ministers “forbidding the use of these arbitrary and political warrants and considering them null,” according to Tohme. (A January 21 article in the Arabic-language Lebanese publication The Legal Agenda confirms this, adding that Tohme’s ordeal “brings to mind the former abuses of the Lebanese General Security [agency], whose goal is to impose a law of silence.”)
Tohme said that she is in regular contact with members of the Lebanese interior and culture ministries in the course of her work as curator, and that the issuance of a warrant against her by the security apparatus is particularly troubling as it comes without recourse. “If any of my actions violated Lebanese law, I am willing to defend myself before a court of law, in a context that is legal and clear,” she said.
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