Amnesty: Sharp increase of deaths in custody as prisons lack basic healthcare
Deaths in Lebanese prisons have nearly doubled in 2022 compared to 2018, Amnesty International said in a statement, citing possible factors such as prison officials’ misconduct or negligence, overcrowding, lack of adequate resources and impunity for ill-treatment.
"The sharp increase in custodial deaths must be a wake-up call to the Lebanese government that their prisons need urgent and drastic reform," Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Aya Majzoub said.
"They must decongest prisons, including through utilizing non-custodial measures as alternatives to pre-trial detention, and must commit additional resources to ensure people in prison are receiving adequate healthcare and have immediate access to emergency medical care,” she added.
“The economic crisis is no excuse for prison authorities to deny prisoners access to medication, shift the cost of paying for hospitalization to the families of prisoners or delay prisoners’ transfers to hospitals. The judiciary should promptly and impartially investigate every death in custody, and any shortcomings and neglect on the part of the authorities must be addressed, including, where appropriate, through prosecution of those responsible.”
An investigation by Amnesty International linked the increase in deaths in Lebanese prisons to the economic crisis, and to "shortcomings in the provision of adequate and timely medical care to people in custody, including in cases where emergency treatment was required."
Between September 2022 and April 2023, Amnesty International interviewed 16 people, including prisoners and family members of individuals who died in custody.
A prisoner's relative said his brother died in Roumieh on 21 August 2022, after his health deteriorated and the prison pharmacist dismissed his pains and the prison guards delayed his hospital transfer, even though his family provided funds to pay for his treatment.
Prisons lack basic healthcare, Amnesty said.
"Overcrowding in prisons has become particularly acute in recent years. Lebanese prisons are 323% over capacity, and around 80% of detainees are held pre-trial. The combination of overcrowding and dire detention conditions has led to the deterioration in the health of the prison population. Meanwhile, in light of depreciating currency and skyrocketing inflation, resources for the provision of healthcare have drastically decreased.
"The real value of the Ministry of Interior’s budget for providing healthcare to people in prison decreased from 7.3 million US dollars in 2019 to around 628,000 US dollars in 2022.
"As a result, prisons are not adequately staffed, and prison pharmacies lack basic medication such as painkillers and antibiotics."