Lebanon releases actor accused of collaborating with Israel

Lebanese actor Ziad Itani gestures as he arrives at his house in Beirut following his release on Wednesday. - AFP

BEIRUT - A Lebanese stage actor indicted on charges of collaborating with Israel and drug possession has been released on Wednesday, effectively clearing him of the charges, while the officer who built the case against him was ordered detained.

Ziad Itani, a stage actor from Beirut who was arrested in November, told reporters after his release that his indictment was a "scandal" and responded in the affirmative when he was asked if he had been tortured into confessing. Lebanon and Israel are formally at war and collaborating with Israel can be punishable by death.

"I am a theater person, people! Why should I be accused of the worst crime ever?" he said.

Itani's arrest and subsequent release were heavily covered by local media, amid a struggle among political rivals with links to the country's various and often competing security agencies. The case was withdrawn from one security agency and passed on to another after irregularities emerged earlier this month.

Itani was received at home to a hero's welcome. A large poster near his house showed a picture of him with a caption reading: "Beirut Is With You."

Prime Minister Saad Hariri hugged Itani after his release from prison, airing their meeting on his official Twitter account. Hariri said "mistakes happen" and were later corrected.

Later, Interior Minister Nehad Machnouk visited Itani at his home in Beirut. - AP