Ziad Itani Freed as Arrest Warrant Issued for Suzanne al-Hajj
Lebanese comedian Ziad Itani was released on Tuesday after 109 days in detention, as an arrest warrant was issued for Lt. Col. Suzanne al-Hajj who is accused of “fabricating” a spying for Israel case against him.
Speaking to reporters after his release, Itani thanked President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq and the Intelligence Branch of the Internal Security Forces.
“I'm a theater artist. How can I be charged with the ugliest accusation?” Itani added, noting that “the heroes of the Intelligence Branch have rescued the new presidential tenure from the scandal of the century.”
“No one has faced the injustice that I have faced,” Itani decried. Asked whether he was tortured, the comedian nodded yes.
Itani then arrived at the Center House where he met with PM Hariri before heading to his home in Beirut's Tariq al-Jedideh neighborhood.
During his meeting with Itani, Hariri defended the State Security agency and noted that any other security agency could have acted the same had it been fed false information.
Military Examining Magistrate Riad Abu Ghida has earlier on Tuesday ordered the release of Itani and issued an arrest warrant for al-Hajj, the former head of the ISF anti-cyber crime bureau.
Itani received a hero's welcome outside his home in Tariq al-Jedideh, where he was received by his family and the neighborhood's residents.
“What are you waiting for?! Meet me in Tariq el-Jedideh and bring sweets and juice... Come on, I miss you,” Itani had tweeted upon his release.
Earlier in the day, Abu Ghida interrogated al-Hajj and the hacker Elie Ghabash in a joint session at the Military Court.
Al-Hajj's lawyer, ex-minister Rashid Derbas, announced after the session that his client had denied all the charges and that “there is no conclusive evidence to incriminate her.”
Judge Germanos meanwhile allowed al-Hajj's husband, the lawyer Ziad Hbeish, to meet her three times a week.
Itani had been detained since November on charges of “collaborating with Israel” while al-Hajj and Ghabash were arrested around two weeks ago on suspicion of fabricating electronic evidence to “frame” Itani.
Media reports said al-Hajj had asked the hacker to fabricate a case against Itani to take revenge on him for posting a screenshot of a 'like' she had placed on a tweet by controversial TV director Charbel Khalil.
The 'like' cost al-Hajj her job as head of the ISF anti-cybercrime unit.
In the 2017 tweet, Khalil had quipped that “Saudi women are only allowed to drive if the car is booby-trapped.”
Media reports have said that al-Hajj and Ghabash are involved in other hacking attacks.
Itani has shot to prominence in recent years because of a series of comedy plays on Beirut, its customs and the transformations it has undergone in recent decades.
The works -- particularly "Beirut Tariq al-Jedideh", which refers to a majority-Sunni neighborhood of the city -- have been very well-received.
Before becoming an actor, Itani worked as a journalist with Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen television and with various regional newspapers.