Rifi, Mashnouq Vow to Punish Culprits as Roumieh 'Torture' Videos Surface

The ministers of justice and interior pledged accountability Sunday after videos of Internal Security Forces guards abusing and torturing Roumieh prison inmates went viral on social networking websites.

In a press conference he held after a meeting with a Muslim Scholars Committee delegation, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi described the conduct as a “crime at the national and humanitarian levels.”

“We will continue the investigations until the end and this crime cannot go unpunished,” Rifi vowed.

“I contacted the state prosecutor and asked him to carry on with the investigations until the end,” the minister added.

He later revealed that five of the perpetrators have been detained.

In a telephone interview with state-run National News Agency, State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud had confirmed that “two ISF members who tortured a detainee at the Roumieh prison are currently being interrogated.”

Earlier on Sunday, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq's press office issued a statement saying the videos were filmed “during the latest riot and raid at Roumieh prison's Block D.”

“After the interior minister reviewed the videos, he instructed the relevant security authorities to carry out a transparent and immediate investigation,” the statement added.

“The culprits were referred to the relevant judicial authorities to face the severest penalties. As the interior minister condemns this incident, he vows that he will not hesitate to take all the legal measures to prevent the recurrence of such acts,” his office said.

It noted that Mashnouq called the justice minister and agreed with him on the need to “coordinate the investigations in such cases” and to “implement the law in Lebanese prisons in a manner that fully preserves the inmates' humanitarian rights.”

In a press conference he held later on Sunday, Mashnouq condemned the abuse and emphasized that the appropriate measures will be taken against the violators.

“I take responsibility for the mistakes that occurred during the raids at the Roumieh prison,” the minister said.

But he stressed that “it is unacceptable to condemn the ISF institution and the heroes who rescued Roumieh's Block B.”

“We have always deplored the abuses and torture that take place in Syrian prisons and I won't tolerate similar acts in Lebanese prisons,” Mashnouq added.

“These are not the only servicemen who have committed abuses. Four other servicemen were prosecuted in the past,” he noted, pointing out that “the incident happened two months ago and no similar incidents occurred after the prisoners were moved to Block D.”

The minister added: “We are the only country in the Arab world that prosecutes members of the armed forces before the judiciary.”

“No one should try to take advantage of the incident politically,” Mashnouq underlined, revealing that “some servicemen were sacked for committing abuses during the raid at Block B.”

Later on Sunday, al-Mustaqbal movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri held phone talks with Mashnouq and Rifi to inquire about the developments.

“Ex-PM Hariri expressed his extreme condemnation of what happened, stressing the need to hold accountable all those involved in these inhumane acts and practices,” his office said.

The former premier lauded “the quick responses of the ministers of justice and interior,” noting that he is “confident that ministers Rifi and al-Mashnouq will not heed some voices that are trying to exploit a just cause over narrow political ends.”

The videos sparked road-blocking protests in the North and the Bekaa districts.

The army reopened the al-Abdeh roundabout after it was briefly blocked with burning tires by young men from the Akkar town of Bebnin, NNA said.

In the Bekaa, residents of the town of Saadnayel blocked the road linking their town to neighboring Taalbaya in both directions.

Meanwhile, LBCI television said "families of Islamist prisoners have started to gather at al-Nour Square (in the northern city of Tripoli) to protest the torture of prisoners in Roumieh."

The two videos, apparently filmed on cellphones, appear to show guards at the prison humiliating detainees and beating them with plastic pipes.

In one video, a prisoner lies on a floor covered in water, stripped to his underwear with his hands tied behind his back.

He is asked what he is accused of, and replies "transporting terrorists."

A guard then beats him repeatedly with a green pipe, while another man off-camera encourages him and demands that the prisoner kiss his assailant's boot.

In the other video, around a dozen prisoners, all stripped to their underwear with their hands tied behind them are seated on a floor.

A guard can be seen beating at least two prisoners, shouting at one: "Lower your voice or I'll put your eyes out."

Meanwhile, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan held phone talks over the leaked videos with both Mashnouq and Rifi.

“The torture of prisoners that we witnessed violates the laws and the humanitarian values and principles. Strict measures must be taken against the culprits to prevent the recurrence of such acts that harm Lebanon's reputation and the state of law,” Daryan said in a statement.

“In the name of the Muslim scholars in Lebanon, we say that what happened was an insult to humanity and to the state, and what we heard from the ministers of interior and justice reassured us that the state will restore the rights and dignity of the prisoners,” the mufti added.

Earlier, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat compared the footage leaked from Roumieh to “a scene from one of the Syrian prisons.”

“This is shameful. The perpetrators must be penalized and those responsible must be sacked,” Jumblat tweeted.

He also called for “speeding up the trials of the Islamists and finalizing this issue.”

Quoting sources from the northern city of Tripoli, LBCI television identified the abused prisoners in the video as “Omar al-Atrash, Wael al-Samad and a prisoner from the Asaad family who hails from Wadi Khaled.”

Roumieh, the oldest and largest of Lebanon's overcrowded prisons, has witnessed sporadic prison breaks and escalating riots in recent years as inmates living in poor conditions demand better treatment.

Islamist prisoners who were being held at Roumieh's Block B transferred to a new ward following increased lawlessness and worsening conditions.

In January, security forces took full control of the notorious Block B after storming the building and seizing illegal items from Islamist prisoners.

Around 800 to 900 inmates, most of them Islamists, were transferred to the new Block D.


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