Lebanon: Torture of Syrian Refugees Arbitrarily Detained on Counter-Terror Charges

Lebanese security forces have committed shocking violations against Syrian refugees who have been arrested, often arbitrarily, on terrorism-related charges, employing some of the same atrocious torture techniques that are used in Syria’s most notorious prisons, said Amnesty International in a damning new report published today.

Amnesty’s report, “I wish I would die”: Syrian refugees detained on terrorism-related charges and tortured in Lebanon”, documents an array of violations committed by primarily Lebanese military intelligence against 26 detainees, including fair trial violations as well as torture –  including beatings with metal sticks, electric cables, and plastic pipes. Detainees also described being hung upside down or forced into stress positions for prolonged periods of time.

“This report offers a snapshot of the Lebanese authorities’ cruel, abusive and discriminatory treatment of Syrian refugees detained on suspicion of terrorism-related charges. In many cases refugees who escaped war, ruthless repression and widespread torture have found themselves arbitrarily detained and held incommunicado in Lebanon, where they face many of the same horrors employed in Syrian prisons,” said Marie Forestier, Researcher on Refugee and Migrants Rights at Amnesty International.

“There is no question that members of armed groups responsible for human rights abuses must be held accountable for their actions, but the Lebanese authorities’ flagrant violation of Syrian refugees’ right to due process has made a mockery of justice. At every stage, from arrest through to interrogation, detention and prosecution in unfair trials, the Lebanese authorities have utterly disregarded international human rights law.”

The report documents the cases of 26 Syrian refugees, including four children, detained in Lebanon on terrorism-related charges between 2014-2021. It is based on interviews with former and current detainees, lawyers and an examination of legal documents.

The report published on Tuesday documents the cases of 26 Syrian refugees including four children who were detained in Lebanon on terrorism-related charges between 2014 and 2021. Since 2011, hundreds of Syrian refugees have been detained in Lebanon, often arbitrarily on trumped-up terrorism-related charges, or in relation to their membership of armed groups, the report said.

Widespread torture

In all but one of the 26 cases, refugees reported being tortured during interrogation or detention. Most frequently this occurred at Ablah military intelligence centre, the General Security office in Beirut or at the defence ministry, Amnesty said.

Two of the torture survivors were aged just 15 and 16 years old at the time. At least four men said they were beaten so badly they lost consciousness and two had broken teeth, the report said.

Detainees said they faced some of the same torture techniques routinely used in Syrian prisons such as the “flying carpet” (being strapped on a foldable board), “shabeh” (when an individual is suspended by wrists and beaten), or “balango”, which involves an individual being suspended for hours with wrists tied behind their backs.

Bassel, a former Syrian detainee, told Amnesty after his transfer to Rihaniyyeh prison he was beaten so badly every day for three weeks that his wounds festered.

“They beat us with plastic tubes from the bathroom on our back. My back had open wounds that started becoming really bad. In the end, there were worms inside my wounds,” he said.

Two other detainees said they were beaten on their genitals so badly they lost consciousness and urinated blood for several days. Detainees also described being held in harsh conditions, standing for days in a corridor, handcuffed and blindfolded.

“There were officers guarding us so that we didn’t sit or sleep. If somebody tried to they would force him to stand again,” one man said.

Lebanon passed an anti-torture law in 2017 but has consistently failed to implement it, and torture complaints rarely reach court, Amnesty said.

“The Lebanese authorities must immediately implement their own anti-torture law and respect their obligations under international human rights law,” said Marie Forestier, Amnesty’s researcher on refugee and migrants rights.

“They must ensure that torture allegations are effectively investigated and that those responsible for these horrendous abuses are held accountable.”

One detained woman said she was forced to watch as security agents tortured her son and another woman said she was made to watch her husband being beaten.

“They tortured my son in front of me …They hung him on the door from his handcuffs, then they opened and closed the door and hit him against the wall … I lost consciousness twice because I was afraid and feeling bad for my son,” Hala told Amnesty.

No immediate response was available from Lebanese authorities to the report.

Fair trial violations

All 26 detainees were denied access to a lawyer during initial questioning, in violation of Lebanon’s own laws and international law and standards, it said. Twenty-three of the detainees – two of them children – were tried before military courts, violating international standards against the trials of civilians before military courts.

At least 14 of the detainees said they “confessed” to crimes they did not commit after being tortured or threatened.  In nine cases, expressing political opposition to the Syrian government was considered evidence to justify convictions on “terrorism” charges, Amnesty said.

Amnesty called on Lebanese authorities to ensure all Syrian detainees are granted a fair trial that adheres to international standards and to end the practice of trying civilians in military courts.