Two prison guards accused of torturing inmates inside a prison in Lebanon have been arrested, ministers told reporters on Sunday, a day after videos of prisoners receiving harsh beatings sparked uproar in the country.
Initially, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi told reporters that two prison guards were arrested but the Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk later said: “These two officers are not alone.”
“At least four others also committed mistakes and I have referred them to the judiciary,” Machnouk added.
Machnouk also said that other officers accused of torturing inmates have been kicked out of the Internal Security Forces (ISF).
Earlier, Arifi vowed that “the criminals will be punished, and he said “anyone who is proven to have participated in or covered the crime will be “subject to arrest.”
He added: “I pledge to pursue the investigation until the last perpetrator is in custody.”
Rifi, who asked Public Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud to make an immediate investigation over the incident, also asked families of the prisoners to join for a protest at 10:30 pm (local time) Sunday in al-Nour square in the northern city of Tripoli.
Videos of the abuse, which surfaced on YouTube Saturday, showed a dozen prisoners in Beirut’s Roumieh prison squatting on a floor with their hands tied behind their backs.
After being severely beaten with green batons, the security forces were also heard cursing at the prisoners.
A statement from the families of the prisoners said the men were not only stripped of clothing but that the beating blinded some of the prisoners, broke bones, and dislocated shoulders.
Sources told Al Arabiya News that the video footage dates back to over one month ago, when on April 30, the prisoners staged a riot.
And on Sunday, Machnouk confirmed that the incident took place when security forces raided Roumieh to subdue inmate riots.
Machnouk also acknowledged that he “assumes full responsibility for the mistake.”
During the April incident, Machnouk rebuked accusations that the mutiny was related to Sunni prisoners and blamed the prison’s limited capacity of 2,500, which in reality has more than 7,000 inmates.
However, critics said the videos show the prevalence of torture at Lebanon’s largest prison.
Lebanon is not any other Arab country?
Meanwhile, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt took to Twitter to denounce the torture footage, likening it to “a scene from a Syrian prison,” and others said that Lebanon is different.
“These incidents happen but I stress: we are the only Arab state that has referred officers who mistreated prisoners to the military court,” Machnouk said.
The Beirut-based president of the Center for Middle East Studies, Hisham Jaber, told Al Arabiya News that “systematic torture in [a Lebanese] prison is unlikely.”
The analyst said torture is usually being done during “investigation to get information and not during prison time… but in detention centers.”
He also hailed Lebanon as being “the Arab country that most respects human rights.”
“Whether the charges are political, terrorism or criminal - when the person is in jail, he does not face torture, this is my experience in military as I was an army officer,” he said.
To give a clearer picture if there is torture, Jaber said “if a person is a drug dealer, he is dealt with torture throughout the 48 hours until he confesses, and usually he confesses before that time.”
Meanwhile, pro-Islamist Twitter pages identified the prisoners as Sheikh Omar Atrash from the northeastern border town of Arsal, Qatibah al-Asaad from the Lebanese border area of Wadi Khaled and Wael al-Samad from the Dinnieh town of Bakhoun in north Lebanon.
Wadi Khaled, Arsal and Tripoli are among areas that had experienced an emergence of Islamist groups.
The uprising in Syria had fuelled intense clashes in neighboring Lebanon, which also transformed Tripoli to a stronghold of Sunni Islamists against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s attacks on their counterparts in the neighboring country.
‘Law must prevail’
Rifi’s advisor, Asaad Bashareh, reiterated the minister’s assurances.
He told Al Arabiya News Channel that Rifi has taken legal measures to find out what happened and to unveil identity of the culprits.
“Lebanon at the end is a country of law and institutions and these measures taken are not only to clarify for the public over what had happened but for law to prevail,” he said.
He added that the abuse is “embarrassing” and “shameful” and that the perpetrators should be punished.
The advisor also repeated that the prison cannot fit 7,000 inmates, and urged for the building of a new prison.SHOW MORE