Lebanon News

Security inspection ignites Roumieh prison violence

ROUMIEH, Lebanon: Seven members of the Internal Security Forces were severely injured as they tried to seize weapons, cell phones and drugs from inmates at Roumieh prison Friday.

Several inmates in bloc B of Roumieh prison reacted violently to a security inspection at 5 a.m., igniting clashes that left more than 10 people injured, including seven ISF personnel, a security source told The Daily Star.

The inspection resulted in the confiscation of several hundred items – ranging from mobile phones and drugs to a diverse collection of knives and swords, some of which were made by inmates.

The decision to conduct an inspection was taken after an inmate threatened a prison doctor with a knife, said a statement released by the Directorate General of the ISF.

“On May 18, 2011, as one of the doctors was examining the health of an inmate, the inmate held a knife to the doctor’s throat and asked him to transfer him to a hospital,” said the statement released Friday.

According to the statement, the doctor told the prisoner that his medical situation did not require him to be hospitalized. The incident led other newly appointed doctors to request to be transferred immediately from the prison.

In an effort to meet the prisoners’ needs, the ISF increased the number of doctors within the prison to 12, after several reports that the inmates were suffering from poor health.

As the security inspection continued, some inmates’ families remained at the gate of the prison late Friday night. “I want to know if my son is still in there or he has been moved to another location,” said one mother, who asked security officials for news of her son.

It is unclear whether the families learned of the inspection from the media or via telephone calls directly from the inmates. One inmate’s mother told The Daily Star that ISF personnel had confiscated her son’s cell phone. “They’ve taken away the only device he was able to talk with me with,” she said.

Following talks with ISF’s Gendarmerie officials at Roumieh, Father Hadi Aya, director of the Association of Mercy and Justice, confirmed to The Daily Star that 14 Roumieh inmates were transferred to prisons in Nabatieh, Tripoli, Tibnin, Zahle and Sidon.

“The relocation of those 14 prisoners is an attempt to disperse and separate a dangerous group inside the Roumieh prison,” said Aya.

According to a security source, the relocation of the inmates led to protests by a few dozen relatives who gathered in the streets Friday, burning tires and blocking the old highway leading to the Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut. The relatives were upset that the relocations would make visiting inmates more difficult.

“The ISF quickly intervened and dispersed the protesters who blocked the road for a short period of time,” the source added.

In April, the ISF and the Lebanese Army contained a three-day riot in the Roumieh prison, which resulted in the death of four inmates. Many inmates set fire to their mattresses and bed sheets, causing severe damage to many of the jail blocs.

According to Aya, the period following April’s Roumieh riots was unstable and saw a shift in the balance of power between the ISF and the inmates. “It was a dangerous period of time, especially since the prisoners came to have the upper hand in many matters in the prison,” Aya said.

The ambassador of the International Human Rights Organization to Lebanon, Ali Akil Khalil stressed the need to speed up the judicial, social and security reforms in the prison.

“What is required today is a full-scale campaign by civil society groups to rehabilitate the inmates who are addicted to drugs,” Khalil told The Daily Star.

The ISF, Khalil continued, was now trying to organize such an effort with NGOs, scheduled to begin Monday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 21, 2011, on page 2.

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