BEIRUT (Rahnuma): The official acquittal of Suzanne Al-Hajj, ex-head of the Anti-Cybercrime Bureau in the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF), by the Lebanese military tribunal on Thursday over fabricating evidence to show that actor Ziad Itani was an Israeli spy has set off a big public debate.
Although Al-Hajj was acquitted of the main charge, she was found guilty of withholding information, for which the court sentenced her to two months in jail or a 200,000 LBP (approximately $130) fine. The hacker Eli Ghabash was found guilty and has been sentenced to one year in prison, although this is a reduction of a previous sentence of three years of hard labor. Suzanne Al-Hajj was detained last year for 78 days, meaning that she served more than the time she was sentenced to.
Al-Hajj was arrested by the Information Department in the ISF after she was suspected of involvement in fabricating the file accusing Itani of communicating with Israel.
The lenient sentence of Al-Hajj surprised Lebanese public opinion, especially after the leak of audio conversations between Al-Hajj and Ghabash to the media after the verdict, condemning Al-Hajj by her own words. Since the conversations were presented during the trial, people started talking about political interference to acquit Al-Hajj by undermining the investigations of the Information Department.
A media clash between the two largest political parties, the Future Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement, took place against the background of rumored pressure on the military court to derail the trial.
Elias Bou Saab, Minister of Defense, talked about “pressure we exerted to prevent interference in the military tribunal.” He said that “they wanted the head of Suzanne Al-Hajj at any price,” stressing that “the audio recordings do not condemn Al-Hajj with the crime of fabricating the Itani file.”