TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi called for the closure of Al-Rihaniyeh military prison in Baabda and the transfer of detainees Saturday, after the Cabinet cleared wanted lists of those individuals named by informants last week.
The closure of the prison, the abolishment of the wanted lists and Tripoli’s economic revival, according to Rifi, constitute necessary measures needed to maintain the security plan in Tripoli and across the country.
“We have resolved the essential issue of wanted lists, now all that is left is Al-Rihaniyeh prison” Rifi told Tripoli residents Saturday.
The justice minister pointed out that Al-Rihaniyeh detention center was a military prison that should not be used for citizens, stressing the need to close it down at any cost.
Rifi thanked the head of the Lebanese Army for his willingness to transfer all 150 detainees, adding that he had contacted the interior minister and the secretary-general of the ISF to evaluate transfer options.
Both officials vowed to accommodate the prisoners as soon as vacancies were made available, Rifi said, adding that “because they are so crowded, less than half of the detainees have been transferred.”
The minister urged officials to speed up the process, arguing that the issue served as a barrier in the face of human dignity, stability and security.
Rifi also called for economic projects that would ensure the continuity of the security plan, saying that “no security plan succeeds if it’s not accompanied by economic revival.”
The minister pointed out the increase in unemployment, arguing that unemployment rates had topped statistics collected in 2010 that said there were more than 15,000 unemployed in the northern city.
Rifi lauded the Cabinet for approving three projects designed to tackle the unemployment problem. The developmental initiatives are designed to create jobs and stimulate economic growth in the area.
“The security plan had some flaws and failures” he said, arguing that the security plan initially had only 61 names of wanted individuals from Tripoli. “We had 61 and we got to 1,400. That is what people couldn't handle and we saw the consequences of that.”
The Cabinet decision to abolish warrant lists, dating back to the period when Lebanon was under Syrian tutelage, was largely aimed at easing the grievances of Sunnis following a spate of arrests in the security clampdown on Tripoli.
Many people were arrested based on these lists without authorization by the judiciary.
Most of the scrapped lists, which included around 60,000 names, were inaccurate and unjustified.
The Cabinet decision also stipulated a review of the mechanism adopted to draw the wanted lists, in order to give the judiciary an upper hand and greater control over the arrests.
Swiping these names off the lists meets a key demand of protesters angry about a crackdown authorities launched in Tripoli in April to restore law and order following several rounds of sectarian fighting over the crisis in Syria. Security agencies apprehended hundreds of suspects based on the lists, while few arrests were based on judiciary warrants.
The move is expected to defuse tension in Lebanon’s second-largest city, where protesters over the past few months have accused security services of conducting arbitrary detentions that target the Sunni community.