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Prison torture video in Lebanon leads to arrests, protests

Justice minister says torture of prisoners in Islamist block is 'not Lebanese,' and is similar to the behaviour of Bashar al-Assad
A screenshot from the leaked video shows a shirtless detainee being beaten in Lebanon's biggest prison (YouTube)

Five members of the Lebanese security forces are to be tried before a military court, accused of involvement in a torture scandal that broke when a leaked video appeared to show prison officers beating detainees with pipes.

The video, almost two minutes long, shows at least a dozen men on their knees in a cramped room, naked from the waist up and with their hands tied tightly around their backs with white cable ties.

A uniformed men is seen and heard beating a detainee with a large green stick.

As the detainee cries out, one of the uniformed men is heard to say, “Terrorism…this is Lebanon.”

The man wielding the stick appears to have a gas mask strapped to his back, suggesting that he works for the security services.

In a second clip, a man wearing the same uniform is seen beating a detainee who is lying on the floor in a pool of water, wearing only underwear.

After almost a minute of beating the uniformed man shouts, “Raise your head,” and is seen to kick the detainee in the face twice before continuing to strike his body with the stick.

After the attack the detainee is left gasping on the floor, still lying in a pool of water.

During a pause in the beating, the attacker is heard to ask, “What are you in for?” to which the detainee replies “terrorism”.

A second man, presumed to be filming the incident, shouts “No to terrorists,” after which the beating resumes.

The attack took place in Beirut’s notorious Roumieh Prison, home to an overcrowded population and a large number of Islamist prisoners, who occupy their own wing.

Block B of Roumieh Prison, located just east of the capital, houses some 900 prisoners, a third of whom are locked up for terror-related offences.

Lebanon saw demonstrations on Sunday night and Monday morning, with hundreds of people in the northern town of Tripoli blocking roads and staging sit-ins in protest at what local media are dubbing “Lebanon’s Abu Ghraib,” in reference to images that surfaced in 2003 showing US officials torturing inmates in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib Prison.

Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq confirmed on Sunday that the attack took place in Roumieh Prison during a recent riot in April, when detainees set cells on fire and held prison officers hostage.

The Justice Minister Ashrif Rifi was the first to comment on the footage, describing the incident as “a crime in every sense of the word”.

“What happened bears no relation to Lebanese customs – it is behaviour that stems from the past, from [people like] Bashar al-Assad,” he told Lebanese satellite channel MTV during a meeting with a delegation from the Association of Muslim Scholars.

“There is no justification for this… Any official who is proved to have participated, known about, planned or aided this crime will be arrested.”

Roumieh is the largest prison in Lebanon – built in the 1970s, it now houses a total of up to 1,500 inmates. 

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