Lebanese police torture drug users, prostitutes, gays

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A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on Wednesday accused Lebanese police of torturing and raping drugs users, prostitutes and gays in their custody.

HRW said it had found cases of police putting detainees in stress positions for hours, dislocating shoulders, breaking teeth and noses, denying access to food, water and medicine, and sexual violence.

The report was based on 50 interviews with people arrested for suspected drug use, sex work, or homosexuality over the past five years.

The Internal Security Forces chief spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Mousallem, asked to comment on the accusations, said the police were “studying the report so that they may respond in an objective way.”

HRW's Deputy Middle East Director, Nadim Houry, said such abuse would not stop “until Lebanon ends the culture of impunity in its police force”.

The report quoted a man who said he spent two days in Hobeish police station in the capital Beirut in October 2010after police arrested him when they could not find his brother, whom they suspected of drug dealing.

When they found no evidence, police changed the charges to homosexuality, which is illegal in Lebanon.

“I begged him to stop hitting my face but this egged him on further and he hit me even harder. He forced me to sign a confession that I have sex with men, all the while hurling punches and abuse at me. He then made me take off all my clothes and looked at me, told me I'm a faggot, insulted me, threatened me,” HRW quoted the man as saying.

The man complained to another officer but was then beaten with electricity cable, HRW said. He was released without charge.

A total of 23 people said police extracted confessions from them through mental and physical coercion. In some cases the confessions were false, HRW said.

Tamara, a transsexual woman, was arrested after neighbors accused her of prostitution. She denies that charge. She too was taken to Hobeish police station, she told HRW.

“I saw blood and people being beaten, and I was terrified. They took me into an office and three police officers started hitting me: punching me with their fists and kicking me,” she was quoted as saying.

“They...told me that if I denied that I have anal sex with men they'll imprison me. I was so scared and did not want to get beaten anymore that I said yes to everything. Every time I denied something I would get hit, what other option did I have?”

A Lebanese court found her guilty of “unnatural sexual acts,” and sentenced her to three months in prison. By the time her trial started, she had already spent five months in pre-trial detention, HRW said.

Others told HRW that they were raped in custody or traded benefits such as cigarettes, food, or a more lenient police report in exchange for sex.

The United States, the European Union, France and Britain have all given aid and training to Lebanon's internal security forces. HRW said its findings “give reason for concern as to whether it is effective.”

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