Washington, DC – In Defense of Christians (IDC) condemns the Lebanese government’s unjust detention of a Maronite Catholic Archbishop as an apparent act of intimidation against Maronite Church leadership for its public opposition to Hezbollah.
On July 19, Lebanese authorities detained Maronite Catholic Archbishop Mousa El-Hajj at the Naqoura border crossing, upon his return from pastoral duties in Israel, and subjected him to an eight-hour interrogation. The Archbishop was released only after the intervention of senior church and judicial officials. The vicar has been summoned for further interrogation before a military court on Wednesday, July 20.
Archbishop El-Hajj is the Maronite Archbishop for Haifa and the Holy Land, and Patriarchal Vicar to Jerusalem, Palestine and Jordan. His arrest and detention by Lebanese authorities occurred in flagrant contempt of his pastoral duty, and further threaten Lebanon’s tradition of religious freedom.
The arrest of Archbishop El-Hajj is an apparent attempt to intimidate Maronite Patriarch Rai for his opposition to Hezbollah’s political coercion. The Patriarch has publicly called for Lebanon’s full sovereignty and neutrality, and the unconditional enforcement of UN Resolutions 1559 and 1701 for the disarmament of Hezbollah. Such acts against the leaders of the Maronite Church demonstrate Iran’s coercive control over Lebanon through its proxy Hezbollah, and its malign intention to solidify Lebanon as an Iranian satellite state.
“Christians throughout the region should have the right to travel to the Holy Land, just as others exercise that right in the region,” said Andrew Doran, IDC board member. “The targeted persecution of a Catholic Archbishop tending to the spiritual wellbeing his flock in the Holy Land is unacceptable, and if unchecked, will lead to harsher treatment” Doran added. “The U.S. cannot allow Iran to drag Lebanon into the Dark Ages.”
According to IDC Executive Director Richard Ghazal, “If the Biden Administration is serious about regional stability and human rights, it must impose sanctions against the Lebanese officials responsible for this and other acts of persecution against Christians in Lebanon.” Ghazal continued: “If Lebanon doesn’t take human rights seriously, he Administration and Congress will have to scrutinize all aid that goes to the Lebanese government.”