BEIRUT: Faculty members and students from the American University of Beirut Monday held a solidarity stand to condemn an attack last week on Roland Nassour, a graduate student and environmental activist who ardently opposes the controversial Bisri Dam project.
“We encourage and seek protection for all individuals who peacefully struggle to stand up for what they believe in,” a statement signed by 158 faculty members and released after the action said.
It demanded that those responsible for the assault be held accountable. “We refuse to be intimidated and to have our students intimidated for choosing to perform their duties as conscientious citizens,” it said.
The attack allegedly took place last Sunday as Nassour was leading a tour of the valley. He gives the tours weekly to anyone interested, in order to drum up opposition to the World Bank-funded project by highlighting the valley’s biodiversity and historical riches.
It left Nassour bloodied and with a chunk of his ear missing. Nassour told The Daily Star he was recovering from some of his injuries, but that others, such as chest pain, were expressing themselves only now.
However, he was able to take part in Monday’s solidarity stand. “It really means a lot to me, because I felt like there is real support, especially from my institution,” he said.
Having received medical treatment, Nassour filed a suit Friday against those involved in the attack, some of whom he identified, others of whom he said he did not know.
He has claimed his assailants were backers of the dam project.
Nassour’s lawsuit alleges attempted murder, threats, theft - he said his glasses and phone were taken during the attack. He is also suing for slander and defamation, saying at least some of the defendants spread rumors and misinformation about him. “I hope that justice does come out, because if it doesn’t with me, what happened to me will happen to others,” Nassour said.
Following the incident, the Council for Development and Reconstruction, the body overseeing the dam project, issued a statement expressing its regret "for what Nassour was subjected to." The CDR said that it “rejects [preventing] any citizen from practicing his right to freedom of expression.”
Activists like Nassour have long opposed the construction of the Bisri Dam on the basis that it would destroy a large swath of the Bisri Valley, which contains archaeological remains, forested areas and agricultural plains.
The government and the World Bank have said that the dam would provide essential drinking water to some 1.6 million residents of greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon.
Nassour said he had not been back in Bisri since the attack.
“But I will be very soon, of course. I work on this cause on a daily basis, and I’m more determined than any time before.”
This article was amended on Tuesday, June 18 2019
This article has been updated to include a statement released by the Council for Development and Reconstruction on Thursday, June 13.