Thursday, August 4, 2011

#Lebanon: Cease Harassment of Human Rights Activist for Documenting Torture

International and Local Groups Condemn Rise in Intimidation of Human
Rights Defenders

(Beirut, August 4, 2011) – The Lebanese authorities should immediately
cease harassment of Saadeddine Shatila, of the international human
rights group Alkarama, for his work documenting torture by security
forces, a group of eleven international and local groups said at a news
conference today. The groups also criticized an emerging pattern of
intimidation against human rights defenders who raise concerns about
security agencies. They also called on the Lebanese judicial authorities
to investigate the allegations of torture documented by Alkarama.

Lebanon's military intelligence summoned Shatila to their headquarters
in Beirut at 8 a.m. on July 25, 2011. He was released at 8 p.m. after
more than seven hours of continuous interrogation, which focused on his
work documenting human rights violations in Lebanon, particularly cases
of torture. Alkarama has submitted these cases to the United Nations
human rights special procedures, particularly the special rapporteur on
torture. On July 26, the military prosecutor, Saqr Saqr, interrogated
Shatila again and referred him to a military investigative judge, Riad
Abu Ghida. Shatila is accused of having "published information harmful
to the reputation of the Lebanese Military."

"Instead of investigating a human rights activist, Lebanon's judiciary
should be investigating the allegations of torture that human rights
groups have consistently documented," said Michael Romig, human rights
officer with Alkarama. "This is blatant intimidation against those who
work to highlight abuses committed by Lebanese security forces."The
intimidation of Shatila follows the recent harassment and prosecution of
other activists in Lebanon for their human rights work. On March 22, the
general prosecutor, Sa`id Mirza, opened a criminal investigation against
the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (known by its French initials,
CLDH). The prosecutor opened the investigation after AMAL, a leading
political party headed by speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, filed a
criminal complaint against CLDH for alleging in a report published on
February 10 that some detainees reported being tortured by members
affiliated with AMAL.

During their questioning, the CLDH representatives asked for a copy of
the complaint but were not provided with it. CLDH said that judicial
sources later told them that the AMAL complaint was for "inciting
sectarian conflicts between various Lebanese communities" (art. 317 of
the Lebanese Penal Code). Investigative Judge Jean Fernaini of the
Baabda district is investigating the case, and the next hearing is
scheduled on October 11.

On October 9, 2010, an officer in Lebanon's military intelligence
interrogated Ghassan Abdallah, the general director of the Palestinian
Human Rights Organization (PHRO). The subject was the group's membership
in the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and a seminar the
group had organized in partnership with the Lebanese Palestinian
Dialogue Committee (LPDC) –a government appointed body – regarding the
system of permits imposed by the army to access Nahr al-Bared refugee
camp. The interrogation lasted three hours, and Abdallah was told that
each time he intends to renew his access permit to the camp, he would
need to visit military intelligence.

On November 27, military intelligence interrogated Hatem Meqdadi, the
coordinator of PHRO's activities in Nahr al-Bared, and detained him
until December 1 without filing any charges. Meqdadi said his
interrogation focused mostly on PHRO's documentation of human rights
violations, the meetings of the organization's general director and its
relations with foreign embassies. During his detention at Qubbeh
military base, military intelligence ill-treated Meqdadi by forcing him
to undress completely, preventing him from sleeping, and providing him
food only once.

During a visit to Nahr al-Bared camp on May 11, an army member told
Abdallah to go to a local military intelligence office, where a military
officer ordered him to leave the camp. PHRO wrote several times to the
authorities in Lebanon inquiring about the legal justification for such
treatment, but received no response. Due to the army's harassment, PHRO
closed down its office in Nahr al-Bared.

"Lebanon often prides itself on its vibrant civil society but its
security services seem intent on silencing many of its voices," said
Nadim Houry, director of the Beirut office at Human Rights Watch. "The
Lebanese government should send a clear signal to its security services
to stop intimidating human rights defenders."

Torture and ill-treatment remain a serious problem in Lebanese prisons
and other detention facilities. Local and international human rights
groups have gathered accounts from numerous detainees who reported being
beaten and tortured during interrogation in a number of detention
facilities over the last five years, including those operated by the
Defense Ministry and the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces.

Article 401 of the Lebanese Penal Code provides criminal penalties for
the use of violence to extract confessions, but the Lebanese judiciary
rarely, if ever, prosecutes state agents alleged to have committed
torture or other ill-treatment. Human rights groups are aware of only
one conviction since 2004, of a police officer on charges related to
beating a suspect during interrogation. The Interior Ministry has not
made make public the results of an investigation it commissioned in
August 2008 into allegations of abuse inside Lebanese prisons.

States have a special obligation to protect human rights defenders
against risks that they may face as a direct result of their work. In
1998, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on
Human Rights Defenders, which says that individuals and associations
have the right "to promote and to strive for the protection and
realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms."

The Declaration also provides that states shall have the duty to "take
all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent
authorities of [human rights defenders] against any violence, threats,
retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any
other arbitrary actions" as a consequence of their legitimate effort to
promote human rights.

The groups who issued the press release are: Alkarama Foundation,
Association Libanaise pour l'Education et la Formation (ALEF - Act for
Human Rights), Centre Libanais pour les Droits de l'Homme (CLDH),
Palestinian Human Rights Organization (PHRO), Arab NGOs Network for
Development (ANND), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International,
Association Justice et Misericorde (AJEM), Restart Rehabilitation Center
of the victims of Torture (Restart), Palestinian Association for Human
Rights (witness) and Ruwad Frontiers.

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