U.S. Journalist Freed in Lebanon After False Allegations of Reporting for Haaretz

Israeli newspaper denies any connection to freelance journalist detained for nearly two days, saying video from protests showing him on its Facebook page was a feed from an international news agency

Anti-government demonstrators clash with riot police during an anti-government protest in Beirut, Lebanon, January 18, 2020.
AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

An American freelance journalist who was detained in Lebanon on suspicion of broadcasting live footage of protests to an Israeli news outlet has been released, the journalist said Tuesday.

Nicholas Frakes, 24, told The Associated Press he was released from nearly two days in detention after an official Lebanese investigation showed he was innocent.

Security forces detained Frakes on Sunday night on suspicion of broadcasting live footage to the Israeli Haaretz. Lebanon and Israel are in a state of war and ban their citizens from visiting or contacting the other country and any contact is considered illegal.

Haaretz denied any connection to Frakes, saying the video streaming from the protests on its Facebook page was a feed from an international news agency.

"I'm glad that I have been released from custody and extremely grateful for the love and support" from colleagues around the Middle East, said Frakes, who has been living in Lebanon since December 2018. Frakes is originally from Alta Loma, California.

Frakes said in a telephone interview that during his 42-hour detention he was held in solitary confinement in a small room after his telephone, camera and notebook were confiscated. He got all his belongings back upon his release.

“They were kind to me. If I needed a cigarette or some food or water they would get it to me but at the same time I was stuck in a room that had a window but it was blocked so I couldn't see if it was night or day,” he said. “It was kind of a mixed experience to be fair.”

He added that he was allowed to call his girlfriend and also received a call from an American diplomat.

The live video feed on Haaretz's Facebook account was an official Reuters video feed. Haaretz did not receive that video directly from anyone other than Reuters.

In a statement released Monday, Lebanon’s State Security department said Frakes was at the scene of the protest near the parliament building, a location from which someone was broadcasting live to the Israeli paper. State Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat referred him to Military Intelligence for questioning and investigation, the department said.

Frakes' arrest came amid intense riots over the weekend near the parliament building that left hundreds of people injured. Lebanon has been witnessing three months of protests against the country's political elite that demonstrators blame for decades of corruption and mismanagement.

The area outside Parliament was packed with journalists, many of them correspondents for international news agencies. International coverage of the three-month old protests in Lebanon has picked up in the past two days as the violence worsened.