BEIRUT: A Military Tribunal has opened Thursday a trial against five members of the Internal Security Forces accused of participating in and covering up a brutal assault against three prisoners in Roumieh prison last April.
Two of the men appeared in two videos that leaked onto the Web last weekend showing the attack.
Military Investigative Judge Riad Abu Ghayda interrogated the men in the presence of their defense lawyers and then formally issued an order for their arrest. The men have been in detention since Sunday.
Abu Ghayda also issued warrants for four other ISF officers, whose names came up in Thursday’s interrogation. They will be interrogated Monday. None of the nine have been named out of concerns of retaliation.
The tribunal has not heard testimony from the prisoners who were beaten. “We’ve just begun [the trial],” Abu Ghayda told the Daily Star. “I’ll decide when to hear from them.”
Pro-Islamist Twitter accounts identified the three victims as Sheikh Omar Atrash, Qutaibah al-Asaad and Wael al-Samad. Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk met with them in Roumieh Monday.
Lawyer Tarek Shandab said he had raised a complaint on behalf of Atrash when the assault occurred two months ago, but it went uninvestigated. “People knew,” he said, “but no one had a video.” It remains unclear why the video was leaked two months after the assault and who knew in the meantime.
Hezbollah Minister Mohammad Fneish called on the government to discover the source of the leak, two days after Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi blamed his party for it.
Following a meeting at the Grand Serail with Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Fneish called the scenes in the video “disgraceful,“ and he accused whoever masterminded the leak of “desiring to manipulate this incident with the aim of ushering the country into an atmosphere of chaos.”
Rifi accused Hezbollah of the leak Tuesday. “The people have seen two videos. There are about four videos, and only Hezbollah had access to some of them,” he said.
Hezbollah flatly denied the charges. “These accusations are baseless, invalid and lack credibility,” the party’s media office said.
The videos that appeared on social media sites Saturday sparked an immediate uproar about torture in Lebanese prisons and detention centers. State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud arrested five ISF officers within a day, suspecting two of carrying out the assaults, one of filming them, and two of failing to alert authorities but publishing photos and video online.
“The judiciary will take very strict punitive measures against the perpetrators and anyone else who is proven, through investigation, to have executed, participated in, or incited the crime,” he said Tuesday.
“There will be no political cover for anyone.”
Because they are in the armed forces, the accused are subjected to a military trial. After finishing his preliminary investigation, Hammoud passed the officers on to Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr, who pressed charges with Judge Abu Ghaida.
Meanwhile, at a meeting with Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk Thursday, the International Committee for the Red Cross urged the government to open a wide-ranging examination of the country’s jails.
“We asked Minister Machnouk to not limit the investigation to Roumieh, but to include all interrogation and detention centers,” the head of the ICRC delegation to Lebanon, Fabrizio Carboni, said.
“Detainees deserve humane treatment, no matter the reasons for their arrests,” he added. Carboni asked Machnouk to issue orders to all security agencies to respect human rights and offered the expertise of the Red Cross to train officers on the matter.
The ICRC has allocated $1,000,000 to help the government renovate Tripoli and Zahle prisons but is waiting for the approval of the Cabinet to release the funds. The Cabinet has not met since June 4 because of a boycott led by the ministers of the Free Patriotic Movement.
Carboni said the state of the country’s prisons is inadequate. “We recommend renovating the prisons to create an environment suitable for prisoners and for the armed forces,” he said.
To mark the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26, the Beirut Bar Association in association with the Lebanese NGO Offrejoie and various human rights organizations have arranged a demonstration on the steps of Mathaf Friday night at 8:30 p.m., called “Refusing all types of torture in Lebanon.”
Also Friday, ALEF Act for Human Rights will hold a news conference at the Beirut Bar Association at Adlieh at 2 p.m. on the principles of the prohibition of torture and victims’ rights to compensation and rehabilitation.