Amnesty International has called on the Lebanese authorities to “urgently prioritize the health of prisoners,” saying deaths in prisons run by the Interior Ministry nearly doubled in 2022 compared to 2018, the year before the ongoing acute economic crisis began.
Ministry of Interior figures shared with the organization paint a stark picture of rising mortality rates as deaths increased from 14 in 2015 to 18 in 2018 and 34 in 2022.
“The sharp increase in custodial deaths must be a wake-up call to the Lebanese government that their prisons need urgent and drastic reform. 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,” said Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“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,” she said.
“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,” Majzoub added.
According to Amnesty, The Ministry provided no explanation of the causes of deaths in custody. But the organization’s investigation raised concerns that the marked increase in deaths in custody is linked to the economic crisis crippling the country, as well as shortcomings in prison and health authorities in the provision of adequate and timely medical care to people in custody.
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, said Amnesty's investigation titled “Instead of Rehabilitation, He Found Death: Deaths in Custody Doubled Amidst Four-Year Economic Crisis.”
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, it added.
While the authorities have blamed the economic crisis for the deterioration in the health of prisoners, in at least three cases of deaths in custody in 2022, families of the deceased told Amnesty that prison officials dismissed the complaints and symptoms of those detainees prior to their death, delaying their treatment and transfer to hospitals and causing their conditions to worsen.