Over 100 prisoners removed from high-security Roumieh unit
The removal of more than 100 prisoners from a high-security unit at Lebanon’s Roumieh prison has begun in response to an investigation that confirmed human rights violations had taken place in the block, an Interior Ministry source told The Daily Star Thursday.
Interior Minister Raya El Hassan issued the transference order Monday after sending her adviser Fares Fares to the prison over the weekend to investigate allegations of torture and other maltreatment in the wing, a judicial source told The Daily Star.
The unit housed 121 inmates, most of whom are detained on charges related to their involvement or alleged involvement in terrorist attacks against the Lebanese Army, according to Mohammad Sablouh, who represents a number of the prisoners detained there.
Former Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk established the unit in late 2018, the judicial source said.
Sablouh said riot police had entered the prison Friday, claiming that clashes had broken out, and tortured inmates and prevented them from contacting their families.
“Blood could be seen on the floor,” he said.
The family of a detained sheikh told Sablouh that conditions inside the prison had been so poor that the sheikh had expressed a desire to commit suicide, “even though this is forbidden in the Sunni faith.”
Other families reported that upon visiting their relatives, they saw evidence of physical torture as well as a clear deterioration in their mental health, the judicial source said.
When families and lawyers, represented by a delegation of Sunni religious figures and prison staff, made allegations of abuse to the ministry, Hassan sent Fares into the prison, and he subsequently issued a report finding that prisoners had suffered human rights violations. Hassan then issued a decision to remove all the prisoners from the unit.
Though some local outlets reported that Hassan had issued a decision to close the building, the Interior Ministry source stressed that it would remain open, but that prisoners would no longer be held there permanently.
Instead, the ministry source said, the wing will now be used as a punitive detention center for prisoners censured for misbehavior.
The source said the process of transferring inmates to the main Block B was underway, and should be completed by the end of next week.
However, a source from Roumieh told The Daily Star that the transfer was subject to “logistical and security conditions,” and that it was essential to ensure that Block B was sufficiently prepared to receive the additional prisoners to “prevent chaos returning to the building.”
Block B has experienced a series of violent incidents in recent years, including an outbreak of violence in 2015, when security lost control of the wing and prisoners pulled doors off cells, resulting in the wing’s evacuation and temporary closure. It was renovated later that year, and prisoners were returned.
Hassan’s move indicates that the promises made by numerous ministers and political leaders, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri, to look into the issue of overcrowding and poor conditions in Lebanon’s prisons may finally come to fruition.
Inmate numbers exceed 175 percent of the capacity of Lebanon’s prisons, according to human rights NGO Alef’s latest figures.
Alef’s executive director, George Ghali, said he doubted that moving such a small number of detainees would have a large impact on overcrowding. One of the more pressing concerns, he said, is the large proportion of pretrial inmates being held in Lebanon’s prisons.
Ghali said that in general, the organization was “skeptical” over the high-security classification, as it was “often a euphemism for the violation of certain rights.”
“We do not support high-security unless there are clear and transparent guidelines over how they will preserve rights.”
He was reluctant to comment on Hassan’s move specifically, saying, “We need to wait and see how the ministry handles this.”
“There are a lot of questions still to be asked here,” he said.