France’s highest appeals court has struck down a decision to release Georges Abdallah, 62, jailed in French prisons for 29 years, calling the Lebanese prisoner’s request for parole “irreceivable” on legal grounds.
He was granted parole on 21 November 2012, but the prosecution appealed the decision, and France has come under mounting pressure from the US and Israel to block his release.
“We don’t think he should be released and we are continuing our consultations with the French government about it,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in January. “We have serious concerns that he could return to the battlefield.”
France’s interior minister Manuel Valls refused to sign Abdallah’s extradition order on the morning of his anticipated release in January, prompting protests and sit-ins at French centers across Lebanon.
Abdallah was sentenced to twenty years to life over his alleged involvement in the murder of two diplomats, an assistant to an American military and an Israeli in 1982. The court was not able to present concrete evidence against him, and he was imprisoned for passport fraud.
France’s court of cassation, its highest court of appeals, ruled against his release on grounds that Abdallah’s extradition would not allow for a one-year, electronically monitored parole period, compulsory for life-sentence convicts appealing for parole. His deportation from the country was ruled a necessary condition for his release.
The document detailing the court’s deliberations and ruling made no reference to the crime in question as justification for his continued imprisonment.
But Lebanese activists say there is still hope, and are holding out for an April 11 hearing at the Sentence Enforcement Tribunal (TAP), where they hope to challenge the appeal. It is unclear whether Thursday’s ruling can be contested, however.
“A case like this cannot be appealed based on the courts and France’s legal sources,” the prisoner’s brother, Joseph Abdallah, told Al-Akhbar.
Dozens of activists have gathered outside the French embassy to protest Thursday’s ruling, continuing months of regular demonstrations and sit-ins demanding Abdallah’s release.
This is the winding road that the leader of the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions has had to take in the French justice system. (Photo: Haytham al-Moussawi)
“We don’t think he [Georges Abdallah] should be released, and we are continuing our consultations with the French government about it…We have serious concerns that he could return to the battlefield.” This according to a statement from Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the US Department of State, on Friday, 11 January 2013.
This was more than an enough of a hint for the socialist government in Paris to block the decision to release Abdallah, who, from today, 15 January 2013, is essentially a hostage at the Lannemezan Prison.
Yesterday, Abdallah was supposed to appear one last time before the French judge, to be read the terms of his conditional release, which requires him to be deported from France. But French Minister of Interior Manuel Valls refused to sign Abdallah’s deportation order.
One judicial source said that the Sentence Enforcement Chamber of Paris (TAP), which held a hearing on Monday to evaluate the 8th request for parole submitted by Abdallah, “has not yet made a decision pending the deportation order.”
On 21 November 2012, the TAP had approved Abdallah’s request for parole on the condition that he be expelled from France. On 10 January 2013, the Court of Appeals in Paris upheld the TAP’s ruling, and rejected the appeal submitted by the French Public Prosecution, settling the controversy regarding its final and unequivocal decision to release Abdallah.
The sudden French move triggered many questions. For instance, is it possible for the French interior minister to completely block the procedures for the Lebanese prisoner’s conditional release? And, will the French prosecution be able to appeal the parole ruling again, having lost the appeal battle?
A French legal source familiar with the case of Abdallah in Paris told Al-Akhbar that political considerations had trumped legal ones after the interior minister’s move. Usually, he affirmed, the authorities may refrain from deporting a foreign national if it suspects that the country of destination, whether it is the foreigner’s home country or a third country, may mistreat or torture him.
In this event, the authorities often respect the wishes of the foreigner to be deported, to remain under house arrest or in refugee facilities, after serving his or her sentence.
The source added, “In Georges Abdallah’s case, the opposite is true. The Lebanese government has expressed on several occasions its willingness to receive him.”
Concerning whether the prosecution can appeal the parole ruling again, the judicial source said that this was unlikely, but stressed that the interior minister’s insistence on not signing the deportation order practically meant that Abdallah’s release has been obstructed.
This is not the first time that legal proceedings have clashed with political calculations, which makes Abdallah’s case the “scandal of the age,” in the words of Yves Bonnet, the former head of French intelligence services (DST). Since 1999, Abdallah has met all the conditions that make him eligible for parole, something that prompted the French judicial authorities to revisit his case several times over the past years.
As it turns out, there are five parole requirements stipulated in the French Penal Code. The first condition is good conduct in prison, which Abdallah has met according to the testimony of the French court itself.
Second, there has to be someone providing him with assistance in case he is released, a requirement that is met as per the documents that have been provided by Abdallah’s family, at the request of the French authorities, since 2003.
Third, the parolee must be able to pursue a vocation, a condition already satisfied by Abdallah, who is part of the Lebanese Ministry of Education’s teaching cadre.
Fourth, the parolee must be in good mental health, which, according to the reports of Abdallah’s psychiatrist, has been fulfilled.
Finally, the parolee must not pose a threat to French society, a requirement that the judiciary has undertaken to fulfill by ensuring that Abdallah is deported by the French interior ministry to Lebanon, or any third country that agrees to host him.
It was this requirement that the French interior minister exploited on Monday, in reverse fashion, to block the Lebanese prisoner’s conditional release.
A History of Abdallah’s French Court Rulings
On 19 November 2003, the parole court in the French district of Pau agreed to release the Lebanese national. The move angered the French Public Prosecution, which rushed to appeal the decision at the request of the justice minister. It succeeded in having the ruling suspended by the court in Pau.
On 16 January 2004, the National Parole Court reexamined the case. However, the court came under pressure from the French justice minister, who in turn was under US-Israeli pressure. Abdallah was subsequently denied parole.
On 31 January 2006, the court refused to release Abdallah after prosecutors argued that France’s image would be undermined with the US and its allies should it release him.
The prosecutors further claimed that Abdallah’s deportation would not guarantee that he wouldn’t return to the same types of acts he carried out in the past and that the psychiatrist’s report was insufficient in this regard.
While he may be in good mental health, they argued, what guarantee was there that he would not return to “terrorism”? (As though Abdallah is a common criminal or a drug addict who is being treated to quit his habit.)
The prosecution gave another reason for opposing Abdallah’s release, namely that he had not paid compensations to the victims, estimated by the court to stand at 53,357 euros, bearing in mind that his family has pledged to pay all such compensations.
On 6 February 2007, Abdallah requested parole for the 7th time only to be rejected once again. Abdallah appealed the ruling, but a decision was postponed until April 2008. The surprise was that the judges, instead of pronouncing the appeal verdict, decided to refer Abdallah’s case from the parole court to a special committee.
On 17 June 2008, Abdallah’s case was referred to a “special committee” in accordance with the provisions of Dati’s Law. Abdallah was formally notified of this, and the committee was set to issue its ruling in September 2008. The ruling was postponed yet again to 9 January 2009 when the court rejected the parole request.
This is the winding road that the leader of the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions has had to take in the French justice system. Yet Monday’s court session was one of its most sinister junctures.
So will Jacques Vergès, Abdallah’s lawyer, play the ace up his sleeve and demand a retrial? He most definitely will if Abdallah is not released come January 28.