Lebanese security forces arrested over prison torture

Five Lebanese Internal Security Forces arrested in Lebanon for severely beating prisoners in Roumieh prison as officials vow to prosecute perpetrators

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Five Lebanese Internal Security Forces members have been arrested in Lebanon after a leaked video was posted online on Saturday, showing guards torturing inmates in the country’s infamous Roumieh prison.

One of the two leaked videos shows a prisoner stripped to his underwear with his hands tied behind his back. A security official asks him what crime he is accused of and he answers "transporting terrorists.” The guard later beats him with a green rod, while another guard - who does not appear in the video but whose voice is heard off-camera - encourages his colleague and demands that the prısoner kiss his boot.  

In another video, dozen of prisoners are shown with their hands tied behind their back and stripped to their underwear sitting on the floor. A guard is shown beating two of the prisoners and shouting at another one "Lower your voice or I'll put your eyes out."

Lebanese Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk vowed on Sunday to prosecute the aggressors during a news conference held after the videos surfaced.

“I assume full responsibility for what occurred,” Machnouk said.

Lebanon's justice minister Ashraf Rifi announced on Sunday night that five ISF members who participated in beatings of prisoners have been arrested. Rifi on Sunday pledged a full investigation into the case, describing the humiliation of the prisoners as "a crime against the nation and humanity."

"We will see through an investigation until the end. This crime cannot go unpunished," Rifi promised.

Interior Minister Machnouk also affirmed that he will not permit such humiliating treatment of prisoners “under any circumstances or for any reason.”

“I am responsible for the human rights of each prisoner, regardless of his affiliation,” he said.

Machnouk said he will meet the three victims on Monday to hear their version of the story.

But he declared that it was not “strange” that such an incident occurred as there was a revolt last April in the prison in which prisoners blocked the jail’s entrance and set fire to mattresses. They also took 20 of the prison guards hostage.

“We must take into consideration that hundreds of security forces had entered a facility that was housing at least 1,000 inmates,” Machnouk said.

“So it is not strange that four or six officers did this,” he added.

The United Nations published a report last year in which it said “Torture in Lebanon is a pervasive practice that is routinely used by the armed forces and law enforcement agencies.”

The Lebanese Daily Star reported that Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch said prison abuse in Lebanon is “rampant.”

“Lebanon pays lip service [to its human rights commitments], but in practice it isn’t protecting its prisoners,” he said.

“Every few months something comes to the surface,” he added.

A strong reaction from the Lebanese public followed the posting of the video, especially in the northern city of Tripoli - where many of the prisoners mainly come from - according to Al Jazeera.

Relatives of prisoners gathered in Nr square in Tripoli to protest the torture of the prisoners and demand Machnouk’s resignation.  

Roumieh prison

Roumieh is the most infamous prison in Lebanon, and is known for its poor conditions and the overcrowding in three of its blocks as well as the harsh treatment meted out to inmates.   

Other parts of the prison have at times been free from any kind of monitoring with prisoners being in possession mobiles, laptops and money. Some prisoners have even been allowed to run their affairs from inside the prison. Some of the prisoners have also been accused by Lebanese security services of organising attacks from inside the prison.   

Torture in Lebanon is endemic and is part and parcel of the process of interrogation of prisoners, especially political prisoners, the Lebanese Centre for Human rights has told Al Jazeera.

The rights organisation Wadi al-Asmar told Al Jazeera that ISF members are using torture as a tool in order to extract information.

Lebanon’s prisons have space for just 2,500 inmates but hold 7,000, Lebanese Interior minister Nouhad Machnouk told the Daily Star.

TRTWorld and agencies