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LEBANON: Detainees treated like 'roasted chicken'

November 6, 2008 |  8:26 am

Lebanonprisoner "Detainees Are Roasted Chickens for the Police"

Under this incendiary headline, a Lebanese newspaper published a report today on torture practiced in local detention facilities.

The article, which appeared in the local Al-Akhbar daily, said that security officials frequently abused those under interrogation. One common torture practice was described as "the roasted chicken" in reference to the position a detainee is forced into while being beaten on the bottoms of the feet.

"Torture is a very common practice in Lebanese detention facilities and remains under-reported," Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch researcher for Lebanon and Syria, told the Los Angeles Times.

The victims of threats and torture include a variety of individuals -- a poor Egyptian doorman accused of theft as well as an Islamist suspected of terrorism -- based on testimony collected from detainees by the New York-based human rights watchdog.

"The more dispossessed you are, the more likely you are to be beaten," Houry said.

He added that interrogators generally perceived beating as a way to extract information from suspects and coerce them into making confessions.

Mobilized by this "serious problem," a group of eight Lebanese and international human rights organizations urged authorities Wednesday to "take concrete and public measures" to stop the use of torture in detention facilities.

The groups said in a statement that Lebanon was not complying with international treaties it signed against torture in 2000.

Lebanese officials were in fact supposed to submit a report on torture to the United Nations seven years ago, but they never did, the groups said. 

According to the statement:

"Over the last two years, Lebanese and international human rights groups have gathered testimony from a number of detainees who claimed that Lebanese security officials beat and tortured them. ... Despite these numerous allegations, the judiciary rarely investigates torture claims, and accountability for torture in detention remains elusive."

The year 2007 was particularly bad with respect to torture in prison. During that year, the Lebanese army fought for more than three months against an Islamist group holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp in the north of Lebanon.

According to human rights organizations, more than 200 individuals said that members of the Lebanese army beat or tortured them in the course of the operation.

Some security branches say they are training prison guards and interrogators on modern interrogation techniques and about respect for human rights. But for human rights groups, the steps being taken are insufficient and limited.

In addition to torture during interrogations, conditions in Lebanese jails remain difficult, according to Houry.

Local media reported last week that inmates with an Islamist background at the prison of Roumieh, near Beirut, rioted in protest of the conditions of their detention. A similar situation in April turned into a mutiny when guards were held hostage for several hours.

"Prisons are overcrowded ... and there are serious delays in putting detainees on trial. This causes a lot of tensions,” Houry said.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: A relative of a Lebanese Islamist held in prison protests in front the Lebanese government palace in Beirut. Credit: Nabil Mounzer/ European Pressphoto Agency

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