BEIRUT: The Ministry of Social Affairs sparked controversy Wednesday after attendees at a news conference held over the case of the taped child on child abuse -- of nine year old Syrian refugee Khaled at the hands of a two year old Abbas -- accused officials of not providing the necessary protection toward Khaled and his family during the investigation.
Attendees at the press conference alleged that the family had no protection, claiming that ever since the incident took place they have been subject to escalating threats from residents of the neighborhood and Abbas’s family in particular.
One attendee even claimed that she had footage of Abbas’ family verbally attacking the Khaled’s family, moments before a live broadcast interview was aired.
“The entire neighborhood, including the Lebanese family, was attacking the Syrian family and they were telling them what to say, but we didn’t air this footage because we didn’t want to stir up any problems,” she added.
Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas ordered the video be delivered to him so he could continue investigations and charge responsible individuals with the relevant crimes, adding that such footage should have immediately been reported to the ministry and the concerned security forces.
In response to the allegations Derbas said that “ISF chief Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous told me that the family was relocated to a safe place,” and that "a generous donor filled a pick-up truck with new furniture and offered to relocate the refugee family."
An attendee countered the statement by alleging that as a result of intensifying threats, the Syrian family had fled the neighborhood and their current whereabouts are unknown.
The attendee confirmed the validity of the offer saying that she was in contact with the donor, but alleged that the family has yet to move since their disappearance took place before the offer was presented.
“Even the donor is not certain of their whereabouts,” she added.
Derbas however, contradicted this allegation, saying that the family’s whereabouts were known, as they were referred to UNHCR after their testimonies were collected 4 p.m. Tuesday.
A representative from the ISF clarified that the refugee family had yet to relocate, pointing out that even though the offer is there “it is the decision of the father and it is not the ministry’s job to impose relocation.”
Derbas added that the ministry was willing to offer social protection to the family whether they choose to stay in the neighborhood or relocate somewhere safer.
Reporters responded by saying that social protection should have taken place throughout the investigation and should have commenced as soon as suspects were located and detained.
At the start of the conference Derbas said that the Department of Juvenile Protection provided social assistance, assigning psychologists to attend investigations and hear the testimony of the children involved in the incident.
The ministry also offered protection for the Syrian family and had serious discussions with the Lebanese family regarding their actions, added the Social Affairs Minister.
According to Derbas, Khaled was referred to a relevant organization in order to benefit from the necessary psychological support.
The ministry coordinated with UNICEF and UNHCR in order to ensure that Khaled would receive an education and his family would benefit from aid being offered by the organization.
He also thanked Health Minister Wael Abu Faour for providing full medical support for Khaled at the expense of the government.
The judge presiding over the case referred the Lebanese children involved to a branch of the Social Affairs Ministry in order to receive guidance and awareness on the dangers of abuse.
“From the first moment I watched the video I noticed that the true victim was Abbas, who was being forced in to this aggression,” said Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas.
The Social Affairs Minister also condemned media outlets for neglecting the child’s rights by revealing his face on camera, releasing his name and urging the child to retell the traumatic story without considering the negative implication it might have on him.
Head of the Cyber Crime and Intellectual Property Protection Office Suzan El Hajj disclosed the investigative procedures that led to the capture of the detained suspects, saying that metadata technology was used to track down the perpetrators.
“We started the investigation from yassour.org, the website that first posted the video, and using metadata we traced the family to Baalbek. Following further investigations we found that a part of the family has moved from Baalbek to Beirut’s southern suburbs.”
Hajj lauded the quick investigation and organized cooperation efforts, saying that it took a total of six hours to locate the family after receiving the news last Saturday.
Derbas pointed out that the detained suspect is a minor and investigations are still being carried out. The alleged perpetrator, 16, is said to be the cousin of Abbas and the person responsible for filming the video.
Hajj also clarified that no woman was among the five individuals present at the scene of the incident, despite what sounded like a female voice being recorded on the video.
“Suspicion targeted Abbas’s sister however testimony’s revealed that five individuals were present and it became clear that the voice belonged to a young boy,” she added.
The notorious video showed Abbas swiping a thick stick back and forth toward a passive 9-year-old boy dressed in ragged pants, a shabby shirt and flapping sandals. The victim then crumpled to the floor, kneeling before Abbas who then continued beating him with the heavy rod.
It went viral on social media last Saturday with activists and officials slamming the blatant abuse. The ISF said that investigations led the Cybercrime Combating Bureau to the arrest in the Beirut southern suburbs of Abbas’ 16-year-old cousin H.T. who had filmed the incident.