BEIRUT — Lebanese authorities Saturday broke their silence about the death of Ghazi Ezzeddine, a Lebanese citizen, in the United Arab Emirates in early May. The circumstances of Ezzeddine's passing remain unclear.
A Lebanese diplomatic source told our publication that Ezzeddine had died in detention. This detail is missing from the statement the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued Saturday, which said Ezzeddine had died of a heart attack. The Foreign Affairs' statement is the first to be published since the news of Ezzeddine's death.
Amnesty International said Friday that Emirati authorities were probably trying to "hide the true cause of death" and "to surround the case with mystery," pointing out that there had been no autopsy.
"After consultation with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, caretaker Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib met with his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries and the Lebanese community in the UAE," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"The Emirati minister assured Bou Habib that the family of the deceased Ghazi Ezzeddine is free to stay in the Emirates or to leave the country," as they see fit, the text continued. "After Lebanon's ambassador to the Emirates, Fouad Dandan, contacted the deceased's wife and brother Friday, he received a signed letter from the family confirming that Ezzeddine had died of a heart attack, and that he had been buried in the presence of his family in the Emirates, in accordance with the request of his relatives."
The Foreign Ministry statement concluded, "Ambassador Dandan will visit the family soon."
L'Orient-Le Jour was unable to reach Dandan to uncover more details on this case. The ministry also could not be reached immediately.
According to several Lebanese news sites, the 55-year-old Ezzeddine, a father of three hailing from Tyr in southern Lebanon, died on May 4 under torture during an interrogation, two months after his arrest.
According to the same websites, Emirati authorities buried the deceased without allowing his family to repatriate his body. Two brothers of Ezzeddine were released Thursday after his death. The editorial staff of L'Orient-Le Jour has been unable to verify this information independently.
Several Lebanese residents of the UAE, most of them from the Shiite community, have been arrested and sometimes convicted in recent years for alleged links with Hezbollah, considered "terrorist" by some Gulf countries.
Relatives of those detained in UAE prisons have scheduled a demonstration for Monday, May 15, at 11:30 a.m. in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beirut.