Human rights groups condemn torture in Lebanese prisons

International human rights groups Tuesday condemned acts of torture in Lebanese prisons following the death of a Syrian refugee in detention and urged authorities to transfer the investigation into his death from a military to a civil court.

Photos surfaced last week of the battered body of a Syrian who had been held for questioning. The grisly visual made headlines in Lebanon and was followed by a video of a coroner assessing the body, which was covered in gashes and bruises. The body was later identified as that of Bashar Abdel-Saud, 30, a Syrian refugee who fled the war-torn country in 2014.

“To ensure transparency and impartiality, Abdel-Saud’s case must urgently be referred to a civilian court,” Amnesty’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Heba Morayef said in the statement. “His family deserves justice and reparations for their tragic loss.”

According to Abdel-Saud’s lawyer, officers from Lebanon’s State Security agency arrested the Syrian at his home in a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut last week, before calling his family four days later asking them to retrieve his body.

State Security in a press statement said Abdel-Saud was arrested for the possession of a fake $50 bill and had confessed during the interrogation that he was combatant for the Islamic State group.

His lawyer denied the charges and State Security first promised an internal investigation, before the case was transferred to Lebanon’s military court.

Lebanon’s military court government commissioner ordered the arrest of five State Security personnel from the branch that held Abdel-Saud in southern Lebanon, according to Amnesty.

State Security released a second statement on Monday, requesting media outlets to “not broadcast news related to the matter, aiming to stir strife and incite tensions especially in these sensitive circumstances Lebanon is going through.”

Senior Lebanese officials have not commented on the recent incident.

The only minister under Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s caretaker government to do so was Environment Minister Nasser Yassin, who in a tweet condemned the incident and called for prosecutors to investigate.

Meanwhile, several of Lebanon’s recently elected independent legislators penned critical statements.

“What happened completely contradicts our aspirations for Lebanon,” Ibrahim Mneimneh, a member of Parliament, told The Associated Press. “We need human rights to be a key reference point to all the work we do.”

He added that the security agency conducting an internal investigation is a “conflict of interest.”

Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights groups have echoed similar sentiments. Human rights organizations have frequently criticized Lebanon for what they say is an incomplete 2017 anti-torture law, and authorities not putting it into practice five years later.

Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Director Lama Fakih said torture in the crisis-hit country has been a years-long problem.

“Lebanon suffers from a legacy of impunity for torture,” Fakih told the AP. “We have not yet seen steps taken to ensure that robust investigations are undertaken and that responsible individuals are held accountable.”

Several cases of alleged torture in Lebanon have surfaced in recent years, including actor and writer Ziad Itani, Syrian refugees arrested in camp raids and checkpoints, and protesters in Beirut, Tripoli, and Sidon during Lebanon’s antigovernment uprisings in late 2019.