DOVER — Supporters of Amer Fakhoury say every moment counts in their efforts to have the Dover restaurant owner returned to the United States.
Fakhoury, 56, is being held in the country of Lebanon. The American citizen was detained Sept. 12 while on a family vacation to his homeland.
Friends say Fakhoury has been deprived of food and water and left on a bathroom floor to suffer as government officials in Lebanon work to beat confessions out of him based upon his alleged involvement in the Khiam prison in southern Lebanon, which was run by an Israeli-backed Christian militia known as the South Lebanon Army.
Fakhoury allegedly worked as a senior warden in the notorious detention camp in the 1980s and 1990s.
Friends and family were hopeful last week that the owner of Little Lebanon To Go on Central Avenue in Dover would be coming home, since the statute of limitations has run out on the complaints against him and because he is a United States citizen.
But now they say the situation has taken a turn for the worse, as prosecutors in Lebanon work to trump up new charges against Fakhoury.
Allyson Schaaf, of Stratham, and Brian Crowley, of Dover, are part of a group of about eight people who are working to free Fakhoury locally. They spearheaded a rally of about 30 people in the restaurant’s parking lot on Sunday afternoon.
“We can’t waste another second. Every second that he is over there, the situation gets worse. So we’re trying to put a little bit of pressure on and draw more attention to his cause,” Schaaf said.
Schaaf and Crowley said they are appreciative of the efforts Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, has made on Fakhoury’s behalf, and they asked her and other government officials to continue to fight for Fakhoury’s return.
Crowley said Lebanon officials have been controlling the message about the situation and that this is the first time Fakhoury’s family has felt safe enough to let the local group speak for them.
Fakhoury’s daughters have returned to the United States, while his wife, Michelle, remains in Lebanon with him.
Crowley explained that during legal proceedings, as a judge in Lebanon dismisses the accusations against Fakhoury, new charges are made motivated by the political situation in the country.
“He’s getting beaten down, and he’s being beaten literally, while he is imprisoned,” Crowley said. “He’s a friend, he’s an American. We want him home. We want real justice, not something we don’t feel is real over there.”
Chyrl Butler, of Berwick, Maine, was out to support Fakhoury and his family on Sunday.
“They’re wonderful people, good Christians. The people that are speaking out against them don’t know what they’re talking about,” Butler said.
Former inmates at the Khiam prison joined demonstrators outside the Ministry of Justice in Beirut when they received word Fakhoury was in the country, calling him a “butcher” and saying he used to direct orders for the torture of inmates, according to international reports. The demonstrators called for his public hanging, according to the reports.
The Khiam prison held an estimated 5,000 prisoners over its lifetime. The detention center was abandoned when Israel left southern Lebanon in 2000, according to the Al Jazeera news organization.
In 2001, Fakhoury entered the United States on a visa and travel document. He applied for political asylum and high ranking lawyers in Massachusetts worked on his case for 10 years, but Fakhoury was denied asylum, according to his supporters. Fakhoury then applied for U.S. citizenship through his daughter, Amanda, who is a citizen.
He has been a beloved businessman who is involved in the Dover church community and a local Republican for years.
“I love Amer. ... He’s a great American,” Jim Philips, of Dover, said on Sunday. Philips struck up a bond with Fakhoury over the love of cars and their mutual Lebanese descent.
Shaheen’s spokesman, Sarah Weinstein, said the office is working on Fakhoury’s case.
“Senator Shaheen continues to be in communication with the U.S. Ambassador on the ground in Lebanon,” Weinstein said in a statement.
Israel and Lebanon have technically been at war since 1948.