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Hezbollah’s Prisoner of Conscience

As the trial of Sheikh Hassan Mchaymech continues, his support grows.

12:14 PM, May 18, 2012 • By LEE SMITH
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Last Friday, a Lebanese military tribunal met for the fifth time in the trial of Sheikh Hassan Mchaymech, the Hezbollah dissident. The Shia cleric Mchaymech was first kidnapped in the summer of 2010 by Syrian security forces as he tried to cross the Lebanon-Syria border on his way to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was charged with collaborating with Israel, but a little more than a year after he was first detained, during which time he appears to have been tortured, the Syrian judicial system ordered his release.


Mchaymech was then moved to Lebanon in the custody of the Internal Security Forces, but it is Hezbollah, say his family, friends, and supporters, that is responsible for his arrest and trumped-up charges.

In the early 90s, Mchaymech was part of the Hezbollah leadership, serving as first assistant to the party of God’s original secretary general, Sobhi Tufayli. Within a few years, Mchaymech had become one of Hezbollah’s most vocal critics, turning against the notion of guardianship of the jurist (wilayet al-faqih) that gives supreme political power to the supreme religious authority.  

At the trial last week, according to Lokman Slim, Mchaymech “did a masterly job of recounting his ‘divorce’ from Hezbollah and requested that several senior Hezbollah members be summoned by the court as witnesses.”

For the first time, members of the military tribunal asked Mchaymech to describe his version of the events that led up to his incarceration. Nonetheless, the next session was postponed until October 5. “The absurdly long interval between sessions,” says Slim, “is simply a means to keep the sheikh out of public circulation.”

It is not difficult to see why Hezbollah wants to keep Mchaymech quiet. Says Slim: “It was at first difficult to rally support among the Shia community, considering the taboo nature of the case. But it eventually became a moral obligation for all those fed up with Hezbollah's political blackmail. Rejecting the abuse of Sheikh Hassan Mchaymech became a pretext for open protest.”

On the eve of the trial last week, the Committee of the Friends of Sheikh Hassan Mchaymech held a panel discussion that focused on the publication of a compilation of his more controversial writings, excerpts of which have been translated into English. The passages below, which attempt to bridge Muslim jurisprudence with modern Western political theory, are all explicit attacks on Hezbollah— its tyranny in not permitting criticism and jailing dissidents, its use of wilayet al-faqih to exert total control of the Shia community, and its monopolization of the Lebanese state.

If a person who is not a Prophet or an Imam wants to serve the people, manage their political affairs and make decisions regarding their fate, but ignores the principles of accountability and diversity of opinion, that person is a tyrant. This is true even if they wear the dress of holiness…Through denial of these principles, this person places himself above the people, demonstrating selfishness, arrogance and tyranny on the one hand, and seizure of the people’s sacred rights on the other. This is why we believe that a State that does not grant freedom to the political and intellectual press and that operates outside its purview is a State devoid of any religious or humane legitimacy. A State that imprisons intellectuals and political dissidents is a State devoid of any religious or humane legitimacy.


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