Lebanon: Military forces must end arbitrary arrests and torture of protesters

Lebanese armed forces must end the arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment of peaceful protesters, Amnesty International said today as nationwide protests entered their seventh week. The past weeks have seen scores of protesters arrested by both military and security forces across Lebanon.

The organization interviewed eight protesters recently arrested and detained and a lawyer representing a number of protesters. Testimonies have been gathered and video footage and medical records reviewed. The protesters described being subjected to a catalogue of abuse, including arrests without warrant, severe beatings, insults and humiliation, blindfolding and forced confessions. Some were detained in unknown locations, denied access to lawyers or contact with their families, as well as access to medical care and had their phones searched. Two people told the organization that they had been subjected to mock executions.

“The Lebanese Armed Forces must immediately put an end to these abusive practices and ensure it is protecting the rights of peaceful protesters to their freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, rather than punishing them simply for exercising their human rights,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Research.

“Over the past three weeks, we have seen the military beat and drag through the streets peaceful protesters. At a time of heightened political and social tensions, armed forces must exercise restraint. These brutal actions send an extremely worrying signal and they must be promptly, thoroughly and effectively investigated by the civilian justice system to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice in fair trials.”

At least two protesters are now being summoned and charged before the military court. Amnesty International calls on the authorities to stop trying civilians in military court and to ensure that perpetrators of torture and other forms of ill-treatment are promptly, thoroughly, and effectively investigated by a civilian justice system and not the military justice system to ensure impartiality and to provide victims with their right to a remedy.

Brutal arbitrary arrests

On the night of 27 November, according to the Committee of Lawyers to Defend Protesters in Lebanon, members of the Army intelligence arrested and detained two young men in the southern district of Marjeyoun after they had been tagging slogans on walls in support of the protests. They were interrogated and released the next day.

In seven other cases documented by Amnesty International, military forces, including the military intelligence, conducted the arrests and the beatings. All seven individuals were subsequently released following periods ranging between a few hours and up to six days.

On 14 November Samer Mazeh and Ali Basal were walking together in Gemmayzeh, a main street close to the downtown area where protesters have been gathering in the capital Beirut, when a group of around five men in civilian clothing approached them. At that point, and after a brief exchange, an army vehicle arrived and a member of the army intelligence forces stepped out and attacked them. According to Samer: “He pressed my face to the ground and handcuffed me. They moved me to the vehicle where I was beaten. They covered my face with my shirt and put my head down. Ali was arrested too and they made him sit on my head. I said I was suffocating. One of them said I don’t care if you suffocate.”

According to both Samer and Ali, they were then taken to an unknown location, still blindfolded, forced to get on their knees, after which the men loaded their weapons and pointed their rifles to their heads. They were then taken to a detention center. “When we arrived [to the detention center], they asked me to say I am a donkey instead of my real name. They also said Michel Aoun [the President] is a crown on your head. The officer asked, is this the one who insulted the president? And he slapped me on my face,” said Samer.

In another case that took place 13 November in Baabda, where a peaceful protest was taking place on the road to the Presidential palace, Khaldoun Jaber was approached by two men in civilian clothing who told him they wanted to talk to him. Instead however, he told Amnesty that they dragged him away from the protesters, after which, a group of around 30 men wearing the vests of the Military intelligence forces suddenly started beating him severely with sticks on his back, according to his testimony.

He added that he was then blindfolded, dragged to an unknown location and tortured. “They blindfolded me and moved me to an unknown place. Later I knew from the lawyer that I was being detained at the Ministry of Defense. During the interrogation, they hit me and asked me who was paying us, who was pushing us to take to the streets, and who was feeding us. I was hit with sticks on my back, on my ribs, and on my leg. I was not allowed to contact a lawyer or my family who did not know where I was. I was not offered food and I was not allowed to smoke. They only provided me with water,” he said.

Chris Haddad was also amongst those brutally beaten, dragged on the street, and then arrested by the army on 5 November in Jal el Dib, alongside eight other protesters. He explained: “Three soldiers attacked me with their sticks. They put my jacket on my face, and dragged me as they were hitting me on my back all the way to the opposite side of the road where they had their vehicles parked.”

Fadi Nader was also amongst those beaten and arrested by the army on that day: “They hit me aggressively and dragged me to the other side of the road. I tried to escape but they caught me again. When they put me in the military vehicle, a soldier hit me on my head with a stick. They knew very well who to arrest as most of us were known faces during this protest movement. We were beaten in the vehicle several times,” he said. A member of the Lawyers’ Committee, Nermine Sibai, told Amnesty International that they had started filing complaints, based on the anti-torture law and the Code of Criminal Procedure, for a number of cases, including some of those documented here above.

This pattern of abuse in effect violates Lebanese domestic laws as well as Lebanon’s obligations under international law, including Law number 65 which criminalizes torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Code of Criminal Procedure which sets out detainees’ rights to due process, including the right to promptly contact a lawyer and their family, and have access to medical care when arrested. Furthermore, the anti-torture law specifies the public prosecutor’s duty to refer any torture cases to ordinary courts within 48 hours.

Two other individuals also recounted to Amnesty International how, on 26 October, a large group of soldiers had attacked them and then arrested them, taking them away from the shops where they worked, as a protest was taking place nearby in Beddawi in Tripoli. Both were subjected to verbal and physical abuse, leading to serious wounds in the heads. The Lebanese Armed Forces refused to communicate their whereabouts to their lawyers and families until their release from a military prison six day following their arrest, on 31 October. At least two of these individuals have since been indicted by the military court and summoned to appear for trial next year.

“The Lebanese authorities must respect the due process and fair trial rights of individuals during any arrests, including explaining the charges for the arrest, that they be able to promptly contact their lawyers and families, and be protected from torture and other ill-treatment. Furthermore, these cases must be investigated by a civilian court, in accordance with Lebanon’s anti-torture law and its legally binding international obligations. As per these, the state and military prosecutors have an obligation to immediately transfer any cases before the military court to a civilian court, to ensure individuals’ right to a fair trial and access to remedy,” said Lynn Maalouf.