Victims tell of 'systematic torture' in Lebanon's prisons

Victims tell of 'systematic torture' in Lebanon's prisons
Analysis: Testimonies from victims show that torture is endemic in many prisons in Lebanon and exposing the deep flaws in the Lebanese justice system.
6 min read
26 June, 2015
Many were shocked at what was revealed went on behind bars at Roumieh prison [Getty]
The prison torture scandal at Roumieh has outraged public opinion in Lebanon, but it appears to be only the tip of the iceberg in a system in which torture is widespread and systematic.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed has interviewed a number of former detainees held in Roumieh and other police and army detention facilities to shed more light on the reality and conditions of prisons and prisoners in Lebanon.

     The leaked video is nothing compared to what really happens. There are other tapes showing more violations
The prisoners' accounts are very similar, and indicate that torture and mistreatment are systematic across the country's prisons.

We spoke to four former Islamist prisoners. Some were released years ago, others much more recently. Islamist prisoners in particular have suffered in the context of the global war on terror that the Lebanese government is part of.

Abu Baker (not his real name), recounted to al-Araby al-Jadeed what happened with him in Roumieh back in April. He said, "The leaked video is nothing compared to what really happens. There are other tapes showing more violations."

He says all prisoners were bound behind their backs and divided into groups, before members of an elite Internal Security Forces (ISF) unit started beating them up with batons.

Abu Bakr added, "Ziad Allouki and Saad Masri (militants from Tripoli) were beaten, humiliated, and tortured the most."

Abu Bakr's voice trembles as though he has been forced to return to Roumieh again. He was sentenced to one year in prison after being convicted of involvement in clashes in Tripoli, between pro-Syrian regime and anti-regime factions in the Alawite-majority neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen and the Sunni-majority district of Bab al-Tabbaneh.

Tahsin, also not his real name, is another former prisoner. He has more details about the mistreatment in prison, since he had witnessed firsthand the riots in Roumieh in 2014 and again in 2015.

The young man said, "The ISF strike force raided the prison, using rubber bullets and smoke grenades. I was hit with two rounds in my leg."

Tahsin's friend, another prisoner, said the rubber bullets were fired at both heads and legs. Many of the inmates who were injured were denied medical treatment for weeks, he added, saying that one prisoner lost an eye and another lost hearing in one ear as a result.


The ISF used batons and electric shock sticks, the man claimed.

"They bound us and threw us to the ground repeatedly for days. After the beating, another unit came and its job was mainly to abuse us verbally and pluck our beards. They would lift us and then throw us to the ground."

Abu Ali (not his real name) has more details about what goes on in Roumieh.

The man was detained there in 2007 after being accused of taking part in the clashes in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in North Lebanon between the Lebanese army and the Fatah al-Islam militant group.

"We were welcomed by being battered. They would stomp on us after piling us all together. The corridor between the cell blocks was filled with our blood."

This continued for three days in a row. Apparently, this is the usual reception for new inmates.

Abu Ali suffered fractures in his ribs and shoulders, adding that some prisoners took part in the torturing as well.

"One of them was a member of the South Lebanon Army (collaborators with Israel during the occupation) and had a tattoo bearing the star of David" he said.

     These testimonies make it clear torture is systematic in Lebanese prisons
Things are not that different in other detention and interrogation facilities, including those run by the Lebanese army and its intelligence branches.

Abu Ahmad (not his real name) was held in many such facilities across Lebanon last year.

It started when Lebanese army intelligence summoned him to one of its stations in northern Lebanon. He went there voluntarily, as he said.

When he arrived there, he was arrested and taken to the Ministry of Defence prison, which he said was "indescribable".

Various torture techniques were used against him, including ballanco (a form of suspension torture), in addition to being kicked and beaten using batons and blunt instruments.

After that, Abu Ahmad was transferred to the Rihaniyya prison operated by the Lebanese Military Police. He says once there, he immediately wished he could return to Lebanese army intelligence custody.

The same torture was repeated, without any proper investigation or due process. Abu Ahmad eventually ended up in Roumieh prison, where he was beaten and humiliated again.

The strangest thing about his ordeal, he says, is that 11 months later, "I was summoned to the prison administration where I received an apology and was allowed to walk free."

The same thing happened with Abu Ali, who had spent two years in Roumieh and sentenced to one year in prison. He said, "99 percent of the prisoners charged with terrorism are innocent. Most of them were not investigated and yet were beaten, tormented, and deprived [of their rights and requirements]."

Justice delayed is justice denied

These testimonies make it clear torture is systematic in Lebanese prisons. They also confirm the violations have existed for some time in the prison system.

While there are real criminals and offenders among the prisoners, including those who belong to radical groups and are involved in terrorist attacks, it is clear that many others are innocent of the charges they are detained on, since we see them released months or years later without being tried let alone convicted of anything.

A report prepared by former ISF chief and current Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi in 2009 had indicated that two thirds of prisoners in Lebanon were detainees who have cases outstanding before the Lebanese courts and are yet to receive sentences.

According to a Human Rights Watch report in 2014, Internal Security Forces (ISF) subjected detainees in their custody to ill-treatment and torture.

The most common forms of alleged abuses were beatings with fists, kicks with boots, and assault with implements such as sticks, canes, and rulers. The report alluded to the death of prisoners in custody and the trial of law enforcement officers in related cases.

The report concluded that Lebanon has failed to address ongoing abuses, despite repeated government pledges to prevent torture and ill-treatment.

Similar reports by NGOs and international organisations have also shed light on the overcrowding and mistreatment in Lebanese prisons, including against foreigners.

The Lebanese state has tried to deny the torture is systematic, claiming what happened in Roumieh months ago was an isolated incident.

However, it is clear the torture is systematic. A report by the UN Committee against Torture concluded that "Torture in Lebanon is a pervasive practice that is routinely used by the armed forces and law enforcement agencies."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.