Wednesday 22 March 201704:55 pm
Testimonies of torture victims in the Arab world are frequent, almost to the point of being routine. Since 2011, the media was charged with an abundance of the stories of those who were tortured, along with the sadistic torture methods used. Reports from human rights organizations have documented testimonies of narratives that previously occupied only a peripheral place in people’s imaginations. While testimonies poured in from the torture cellars of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and the other turbulent Arab countries, Lebanon maintained a low profile amid the commotion. Compared to other countries, the number of reported torture cases remained relatively low, thereby warranting an insistence in the political rhetoric that “Lebanon respects human rights.” Nonetheless, reports by international and local humanitarian organizations, as well as leaked videos, confirmed the existence of human rights violations in Lebanon, including an October 2014 report issued by the UN Commission Against Torture, stating that torture in Lebanon is a “pervasive practice that is routinely used by the armed forces and law enforcement agencies.” It is in this context that the latest report by the Human Rights Watch arrives, entitled ‘It’s Not the Right Place for Us’: The Trial of Civilians by Military Courts in Lebanon. ‘Creative’ Torture Methods The report coincides with the approaching date for fourteen civilians to stand military trial on charges of participating in the 2015 protests against corruption in the government during the waste management crisis. The report condemns the use of military trials against civilians, highlighting this particular case, in which the defendants could face up to three years in prison. Moreover, the report does not only address this case, but also follows up on cases of victims who stood trial and some of whom were tortured during the interrogation of the Ministry of Defence. The report documents testimonies of civilians who were interrogated without the right to counsel, and who described beatings, psychological torture, electrocution, being hung by the wrists with hands tied behind the back, and orders to sign statements while blindfolded. In some of the cases, the confessions extracted under duress were the only evidence presented.
- “It was the first time that I learned I could be treated this way,” said Tamara, one of the 14 protesters facing trial before the courts on January 30. “I had no idea that I could end up in front of a military court.… The treatment in military court is very ugly. I’m not military, I’m not wearing a uniform, you can’t treat me like an enlisted soldier.… I have no problem, send me to a civilian court. But I shouldn’t be in the military courts, it’s not the right place for us. They’re trying to scare us. The days we go down to the tribunal, I worry about what might happen,” she added.
- “I screamed from under the ground when I saw him…. I couldn’t believe this was my son. You can’t describe it. His face was all bloodied, swollen, and blue,” one mother described the appearance of her son, in the section of the report discussing the torture of children during the investigations. According to the Union for Protection of Juveniles in Lebanon, 355 children were tried before the military courts in 2016.
- “I was tortured inside the Ministry of Defense, and then I was raped by members of the military intelligence at the military police barracks in Rihaniyyeh in 2013. I was detained because of what I wrote on Facebook in support for Sheikh Ahmad Al-Assir at the time of the clashes between members of his group and the Lebanese military. Following my detention in September, interrogators pressured the Ministry of Defense to withdraw the rape allegations reported by the local media,” said Layal Al-Kayaje, who was accused of “harming the military institution” and who was sentenced to the time she spent in prison.
- “I couldn’t breathe. The wind was knocked out of me and I passed out,” Ruwayd, a man in his mid-twenties from northern Lebanon, told HRW. “The next day he said officials transferred him to the Ministry of Defense in Yarze, and there, he told officers he was tortured by the ISF but that they said, “If you don’t talk, we will make you talk. We have balanco [hanging the victim by the wrists tied behind the back], farrouj [suspending the victim by the feet with hands tied together to an iron bar passed under the knees], electricity—whatever you want, we will do it. Speak or we will send you to torture!” Ruwayd said he confessed to everything he was accused of because he was afraid of being tortured further. Ruwayd was eventually released from prison in early 2015,” the report read.
- Najib, another Lebanese young man who was tried by the military and faced accusations of weapon trade, told HRW that “officers beat him and forced him to sign a confession during his interrogation at the Ministry of Defense in Yarze, after the army arrested him at his home in fall 2014. During the interrogation Najib said officers slapped him, punched him in the face, and threw him against the wall. He said officers made him stand in front of the wall in the interrogation room for five hours until he passed out and collapsed on the floor. He said that the beatings left him with a swollen neck, back, and legs, and that his whole body was black and blue. The next day they forced him to sign a piece of paper without telling him what was written on it. He said that two days later he was brought before the investigative judge at the military court and was charged with selling weapons.” The only evidence in the court was the paper he was coerced to sign.