Lebanon News

Saqr charges 16 policemen and 2 officers in Roumieh jailbreak

Lebanese policemen stands guard at the Roumieh Prison, Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: A military prosecutor charged Tuesday 18 policemen, including two officers, with helping three Fatah al-Islam inmates escape from Roumieh prison.

The three were being held in the prison for their alleged involvement in the 2007 battles between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese Army. Last week, guards in Roumieh discovered that Syrian Omar Othman, Palestinian Mohammad Falah and Algerian Faisal Aiqala had escaped.

Police are still trying to determine when exactly in the past several months the three fled the prison complex.

Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr charged the 18 policemen – all members of the Internal Security Forces – with crimes ranging from negligence to complicity.

Thirteen of the charged policemen are now in custody, and Saqr has referred their case to the military investigative judge.

On Monday, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said that it was unfortunate that many police officers would be arrested in the case when only a few were actively involved in helping the inmates escape the prison.

Charbel also said the police officers responsible for the escape would take the place and the cell of the fugitives.

“I want everyone to know that there has to be three police officers who will take the place of those prisoners who managed to escape,” Charbel said.

Rival politicians squared off over the jailbreak, accusing different authorities of failing in their duty.

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun said that Internal Security Forces’ Commander Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi and the head of the Information Branch Wisam Hasan should be held responsible for the escape of the Fatah al-Islam inmates.

“These two are responsible for the scandal at Roumieh, there are monsters within the security forces,” said Aoun.

“Who else other than Ashraf Rifi and Wisam Hasan could help them escape the prison?” Aoun said after his weekly meeting with his parliamentary Change and Reform bloc.

The FPM leader said that it is the responsibility of the ISF’s Information Branch to be in control of the security at Roumieh.

He also criticized the government for failing to start a project to build two new prisons in north Lebanon and two others in south Lebanon.

“Nine months ago, I proposed an emergency decree that was ratified by the government to build two prisons in the north and south Lebanon, we still have not seen any move to implement it,” he added.

For its part, the March 14 coalition’s Future Movement criticized the government, saying that the Roumieh scandal and the escape of the three inmates were due to the government’s neglect in rehabilitating the prison following the three days of riots that damaged the complex last year.

“How can the government’s ministerial committees fail to replace the broken doors in Roumieh more than a year after the riots?” the Future Movement said in a statement issued after its weekly meeting at former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s residence in Downtown Beirut.

Head of Beirut Bar Association Nuhad Jabr decried the Roumieh scandal, describing it as a catastrophe for the country’s image and its judiciary.

“This incident resembles a catastrophe; there must be an end to this chaos in Lebanese prisons and the bribery and the prejudiced method of dealing with the prisoners,” Jabr said in a statement.

Jabr criticized successive governments for neglecting prisons in the country and said that the years of neglect have led to poor conditions.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 17, 2012, on page 3.




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