Beirut, Lebanon – Videos leaked on social media have revealed police officers beating and torturing several prisoners held in Lebanon’s Roumieh prison, prompting the justice minister to call for an investigation into the incidents.
Calling the incidents “brutal and barbaric”, Ashraf Rifi on Sunday pushed to identify those behind the beatings, “in order to refer them to specialised judiciary and punish them duly”.
At a news conference here on Sunday, Rifi announced that two security officers have been arrested so far in connection with the reported prison abuse.
“The torture depicted in the videos is a crime in the eyes of the law, justice and humanity,” he said. “Any officer known to have had any involvement at all will be sanctioned.”
One video depicts several half-naked prisoners kneeling, with their hands tied behind their backs.
At least two Lebanese officers are seen in the video using a green-coloured rod to beat the inmates, dark welts visible on their backs and arms.
One officer is seen grabbing the head and body parts of an prisoner before beating him across the face with the rod.
Another video shows an officer towering over a prisoner, asking what his crime was. The prisoner responds by saying “transporting terrorists”, and the officer then begins to beat him with a green rod.
One of the prisoners seen in the video has been identified, according to reports, as Sheikh Omar al-Atrash, who was arrested in January 2014 in connection with transporting explosive-laden cars and suicide bombers into Lebanon to carry out attacks in Dahiyeh, Beirut’s southern suburbs.
Following the release of the videos, Nouhad Machnouq, Lebanon’s interior minister, released a statement saying the incidents are believed to have taken place during the last prison riots in April 2015, when prisoners took 20 security guards hostage for a brief period of time.
He referred all those “culpable” to an investigation in order to determine who violated the law, saying that the guilty would be punished.
Hundreds of prisoners have been detained and held in Roumieh without charge since 2007 following a conflict between armed groups in the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp and the Lebanese army.
Over the past year, Lebanese security forces have conducted security raids and detained dozens of people suspected of being linked to “terrorist activities” in the country.
Roumieh is notorious for its shortage of space, and prisoners have rioted on several occasions in protest at overcrowding and the lack of access to fair and speedy trials.
In January 2015, security forces conducted a crackdown inside Roumieh’s Cell Block B, which was known to hold prominent prisoners and those detained for “terror-related” activities, including those with connections to groups such as the Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the Abdallah Azzam Brigades.
Footage from inside the Block revealed what was dubbed as the “operation center” of many of the security incidents that had taken place inside the country.
Flat-screen TVs, laptop computers, mobile phones, laser printers and other electronic devices were found in the cells of those residing in Cell Block D, according to Lebanese officials.