Lebanon News

Beirut Bar Association mulls Roumieh office to deter abuses

BEIRUT: Rights violations at Roumieh Prison are so recurrent that the country’s Beirut Bar Association is studying whether it can open a permanent office inside the prison to deter them, the body’s head George Jreij said Monday. The union has also demanded that the government transfer the prison’s administration from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry.

One day after videos of inmates being tortured circulated on social media and shocked Lebanon, the union condemned the scenes in the most severe terms.

At a news conference at the association’s headquarters in Mathaf, Jreij likened Roumieh to the notorious American military prison in Iraq. “Are we looking at the Lebanese Abu Ghraib?” he asked.

He expressed little faith in the Interior Ministry’s competence to oversee the country’s prisons, and said their administration should be transferred to the Justice Ministry instead.

“This means moving [the prisons] from the purview of a security state to a state of laws,” Jreij said. “Roumieh will not calm down until it is transferred to the legal administration of the Justice Department, and only then can we think this won’t happen again.”

Jreij blamed the security forces for entangling the country in “the worst scandal, of ethical, humanitarian, psychological, physical and even sectarian dimensions.”

“Justice is to arrest prisoners, not to torture them,” he said.

Jreij warned that the scope of the scandal may not yet be fully exposed. The footage from the prison appears to be shot on an unconcealed camera, raising questions about whether higher-level officials covered up the crimes. Jreij wondered whether the interior minister knew of the abuse when it supposedly occurred.

“Why was [the video] leaked two months after the incident occurred?” he asked. “If the interior minister knew about this for the past two months, and he didn’t take any action, then the crime is even worse.”

Jreij vowed the union would follow investigations until “every perpetrator has been punished and until violations in Lebanon’s prisons no longer occur.”

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk vowed Monday not to allow a repeat of torture inside Roumieh Prison, and promised “strict” punishment for the guards involved in beating inmates.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 23, 2015, on page 3.

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