Lebanon: Political prisoners tortured to 'confess'

Political prisoners in Lebanon have been tortured into confessing to al-Qa'ida membership and that of other terrorist organisations, according to a new Amnesty International report published today (7 May). The report also states that the trial of more than 20 people, still ongoing since 2001, has been prejudiced by official allegations of involvement with al-Qa'ida and other terrorist groups.

The report Lebanon: Torture and unfair trial of the Dhinniyyah detainees, documents torture, ill-treatment and unfair trial of detainees who have been in prison since 1999/2000 in connection with their alleged involvement in armed clashes in Dhinniyyah in December 1999. It states that US pressure on Lebanon to tackle terrorism after September 11 may have worsened the situation of the Dhinniyya detainees and others held after waves of arbitrary arrests of Muslims.

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Stephen Bowen said:

'Extracting confessions by torturing people is no basis for justice. Amnesty International has repeatedly presented credible allegations of political prisoners being tortured to the Lebanese authorities. They have been dismissed out of hand.

'The Lebanese authorities must urgently investigate and address these allegations. They must ensure that the rights of the Dhinniyyah detainees are respected at all times. And they must honour their obligations under the Convention against Torture and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.'

Detainees were allegedly tortured in underground cells at the Ministry of Defence Detention Centre. They were subjected to electric shocks and the ballanco (hanging by the wrists which are tied behind the back) mainly to coerce them to make 'confessions'.

One detainee told Amnesty International:

'After about six days of interrogation under torture I was ordered to quickly sign some papers without reading them. I was told that I had no choice but to sign because the other option was torture. At the time I was blindfolded and handcuffed and they continued to insult and humiliate me. They told me that my wife was also in detention and that they would let me go if I signed the papers. I was then shown where to sign and I put my signature there. Then mockingly they told me 'you are signing your death warrant'.'

Another detainee who was released on bail, told Amnesty International:

'On the seventh day I was transferred to the Ministry of Defence Detention Centre in al-Yarze. I was full of fear and was praying to God to be dead before my arrival so they could not touch me. I was tortured and interrogated continually while verbal abuse continued. I was overwhelmed by physical and mental weakness and was vomiting blood and my urine was discoloured. It was impossible to sleep as I was handcuffed, cold and hungry.

The majority of Dhinniyyah detainees were arrested in a wave of clampdowns from January to April 2000 by Military Intelligence and other security forces. Amnesty International believes that there were serious violations of their rights in pre-trial detention, including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Since the arrest and subsequent referral of the Dhinniyyah detainees to the Justice Council the group has been accused by Lebanese government officials and by the media of involvement with al-Qa'ida and 'terrorism' in a manner that seriously prejudices their right to fair trial.

In 2001 the Dhinniyyah detainees were referred to a special court called the Justice Council. The court ensures legal representation for the accused and allows defence lawyers access to case documents; its procedures and hearings are public and attended by the media. Amnesty International delegates have in the past attended Justice Council hearings.

However one of the serious flaws of the Justice Council is that it has no jurisdiction over pre-trial detention procedures including interrogation. This may be one of the reasons why it is unable to investigate claims of torture and other abuses during pre-trial detention.

Amnesty International calls on the Lebanese authorities to investigate all allegations of torture, in accordance with international human rights treaties and standards. They must also investigate all cases where 'confessions' have allegedly been extracted under torture. As a state party to the Convention against Torture Lebanon must, according to Article 15, 'ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings'.

The report is available online at: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE180052003?open&of=ENG-LBN

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