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Lebanon frees Australian and journalists held in child kidnap case

Woman reportedly given bail on condition she gives up claims for custody of children taken from Australia by Lebanese father
Australian TV presenter Tara Brown (back) and Sally Faulkner after being released (AFP)

A Lebanese judge on Wednesday released on bail an Australian woman and four journalists charged with abducting her two children from their Lebanese father in Beirut.

The children’s mother Sally Faulkner and a four-member Australian television crew were charged last week for reportedly abducting the six-year-old girl and a four-year-old boy from their father, Ali al-Amin who allegedly took the children to Lebanon and then refused to return them to Australia.

"I have agreed to release the Australian crew and the mother on bail after the children's father and grandmother dropped the personal charges against all five of them," judge Ramy Abdallah told the court.

In a phone call with AFP, Amin confirmed he had dropped the charge against Faulkner and the crew from Channel Nine's "60 Minutes" programme.

His lawyer Hussein Berjawi said earlier that Faulkner's bail had been set at 1,000,000 Lebanese pounds (approximately $660).

A judicial source told local newspaper The Daily Star that in exchange Faulkner had agreed to give up her child custody rights, although she will be allowed to see her children in Lebanon in the presence of the father.

Faulkner and the Channel Nine crew are still facing charges by Lebanon's public prosecutor, but they could be charged in absentia, Berjawi said.

According to Channel Nine's chief correspondent Tom Steinfort in Beirut, the channel "is hoping to have the 60 Minutes crew on a flight out of Beirut tonight [Wednesday]".

The judicial source also told the Daily Star that the Australian embassy in Beirut, as well as security and political delegations from the country which had visited Lebanon, all placed a large amount of pressure on Lebanese authorities to release the suspects.

Amin has not dropped his charges against two Britons and two Lebanese who allegedly helped in the abduction, Berjawi told AFP.

She had reportedly been working with a child recovery agency to bring back the children, and the "60 Minutes" crew was recording the operation. It had previously been alleged that the crew has paid the child recovery agency to try and seize the children back, but Nine have strongly denied this.

A grainy video of the 6 April incident released by Lebanon's al-Jadeed television showed the children walking with an elderly person said to be their grandmother before several figures jump out of a nearby car and carry the children into the vehicle before speeding off.

The television crew was arrested the following day and Faulkner was later found with the two children at a home in Beirut. The children are now reported to be with their father in a southern Beirut suburb.