BEIRUT: Ziad Itani was given a hero’s welcome as his family, friends, and Future Movement (FM) supporters gathered in the Tariq El Jdide neighborhood of Beirut in celebration of his release.
Surrounded by a large crowd of locals, Itani joined in, chanting along “Allah, Hariri, Tariq El Jdide.”
Laying bare his emotions, Itani showed his gratitude to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who reportedly urged the Internal Security Forces’ (ISF) Information Branch to further investigate his case.
“I was accused of the gravest crime, but now the truth has come out,” Itani said.
Itani’s bizarre case, climaxing in his release, took a twist after the Information Branch of Lebanon’s ISF suspected former head of the Anti-Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Bureau Suzanne Hobeiche of hiring hacker Elie Ghabash to frame Itani, whom she blames for his dismissal.
Though Itani was vocal in his support for Hariri’s FM, some of his family members conveyed a sense of skepticism.
“My brother was never a supporter of the Future Movement, he's always supported civil society”, his brother Omar told Annahar, adding that “It appears that certain parties are trying to score political points.”
Ziad’s time in prison never strained the two brother’s relationship, however, with Omar convinced of his sibling’s innocence.
“I was sure that he won’t be imprisoned for long,” he said.
Emotions were already running high as Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, a close advisor to Hariri, made his way to Itani’s residence.
Shortly before Mashnouk’s arrival, lambs were being slaughtered and fireworks lit up the sky as residents of Tariq El Jdide flocked to Itani’s residence.
Mostafa al-Ghoul who came to celebrate this “victorious day,” told Annahar that “Ziad was unjustly accused and should not have been arrested in the first place.”
17-year-old Celine Mrad, a neighbor of Itani since childhood, said she was shocked when news of Itani’s arrest emerged.
“We all know that he loves Lebanon,” she said, recounting how “he used to play games with us as children.”
The joyous environment was far-reaching, touching the landlord of his parent’s house who expressed his elation while standing on his balcony.
“There is nothing to say other than kind things about this friendly person,” he told Annahar.
Discreetly standing around the corner of the family house, the softly spoken wife of Itani hesitated for a moment before telling Annahar “I’d rather stay out of the limelight, I prefer that no one sees me.”
Given his local popularity, the Lebanese actor's initial arrest sent shockwaves through Lebanon and its different institutions.
Jad Shahrour, Communication Officer at Samir Kassir Foundation which advocates for freedom of Speech, told Annahar that his foundation has been pressing for a thorough and transparent investigation.
“It is not acceptable anymore to have media outlets leaking investigation reports,” he said, before highlighting to Annahar the discrepancies that surrounded the actor’s case.
Shahrour’s comments came in reference to a number of local media outlets disseminating information “that might have harmed Itani.”
Both men’s friendship goes back to the time when they used to “sit behind the television set and watch football games.”
But not all those who showed up at Itani’s residence appeared to celebrate his release. Tens were thrilled because Ansar, a local football team, had just won the game.
18-year old Ahmad Al Zein was one of them. “Who is Itani?” he told Annahar.
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