Riots in Lebanese Roumieh prison over living conditions

Unrest comes after leaked videos showed prisoners being beaten by guards, but connection is not confirmed.

Lebanon Roumieh prison [Al Jazeera]
Lebanon's Roumieh prison is notorious for its poor conditions and overcrowding [File: Al Jazeera]

Beirut, Lebanon – Inmates in Lebanon’s largest prison have rioted to protest against poor conditions, days after videos were leaked online depicting Lebanese prison guards beating prisoners.

Scores rioted inside Roumieh prison on Tuesday demanding concessions and better living conditions, damaging several cells and injuring fellow inmates in the process.

The riot erupted in Cell Block A, which holds convicted prisoners, and the Internal Security Forces dispatched its Panther Unit – an elite unit – to prevent the situation from deteriorating. Security forces were able to quell the riot after several hours.

Nuhad Mashnuq, the Lebanese interior minister, dispatched his advisor for prison affairs to hear the demands of the prisoners.

According to local media reports, the prisoners rioted against newly-introduced stricter regulation prohibiting the smuggling in of contraband.

On Sunday, videos leaked on social media sites revealed several security officers heavily beating inmates with green rods as they were forced to kneel half-naked on the floor with their hands tied behind their backs.

In one video, an officer demanded an inmate to kiss his feet before kicking him in the face and then beating him with the rod. It is not confirmed that Tuesday’s riot is connected to the videos.

Separate investigation

Al Jazeera has been doing its own unearthing of torture in Roumieh, using videos and pictures given to the network by prison inmates.

Ali Ibrahim, a former prisoner, described in detail one of the methods of torture called Cat, Rat and Sleeping bag.

Following the leak of the videos, both Lebanon’s justice minister and interior minister came out and condemned the torture, vowing to hold those culpable to justice.

“The torture depicted in the videos is a crime in the eyes of the law, justice and humanity,” said Ashraf Rifi, Lebanon’s justice minister, on Sunday. “Any officer known to have had any involvement at all will be sanctioned.”

RELATED: Lebanon arrests guards over prison beatings

At least five officers have since been arrested over their alleged involvement in the abuse of the prisoners.

“These videos are the tip of the iceberg, and torture in Lebanon has been documented for a while,” a Human Rights Watch spokesperson told Al Jazeera.

“While it is great its finally getting attention, it’s also time for the authorities to look at it from a broader scope and address the underlying issues, and introduce proper oversight and reform.”

“Several times authorities have said cases are underway and detained people, but there’s never been any real follow up, so the government needs to keep on it, be transparent and keep informing the public,” she said. “We welcome these statements made by the Lebanese officials, but they need to be more proactive and find solutions.”

Mashnuq stated the videos were filmed following an earlier riot in the prison in April 2015, when prisoners rioted against the poor conditions they were being held in. During the riot they set their mattresses on fire and briefly took several officers hostage.

One of the prisoner gripes is the lack of speedy trials; hundreds of detainees have been held without trial for years. Many of those are Islamists who were arrested following the 2007 Nahr el Bared conflict between armed rebels and the Lebanese army in the Palestinian refugee camp. Over the last year or so, dozens more people were detained in security raids, suspected of being linked to ‘terrorist activities’ in the country.

The families of the detainees held protests on Sunday night in the northern city of Tripoli to protest against the torture, demanding justice to be served.

Roumieh is notorious for its poor conditions and overcrowding, and prisoners have rioted on several occasions in the past, the latest being in April.

In January 2015, as security forces moved prisoners from Cell Block B to D, footage from inside revealed what was called the ‘operation centre’ for many of the security incidents that took place inside the country.

The move came after prison guards had struggled to exert authority over the cell block, which had been taken control over by the prisoners residing there. Dozens of flat screen TVs, lap top computers and mobile phones were found inside the cell block during the raid.

Source: Al Jazeera