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Lebanon’s Prisons Are ‘Ticking Bombs’

Lebanon’s Prisons Are ‘Ticking Bombs’

Tuesday, 30 August, 2022 - 09:15
Prisoners in Roumieh prison near Beirut. (AFP/Getty Images)

“We are dead, but we move between four walls.” With this expression, a prisoner described his condition with thousands of others that are held in Lebanese prisons.

Inmates are no longer dreaming of returning to freedom, nor living with their children and families under one roof. They are in a struggle for survival, and to avoid death in cells as a result of viruses, diseases, and even starvation.

One prisoner, who called himself Youssef Abdel Karim, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Is it possible that 18 prisoners languish in one cell that can accommodate no more than five?”

He added: “The problem is not only with the tight rooms and the inability to sleep, but with the disgust that we are forced to accept and adapt to, from lack of hygiene, unpleasant odors from the toilets, and our deprivation of showers due to a water shortage, in addition to the rationing of food, and other problems.”

Abdel Karim, who declined to reveal his real name, is held in Tripoli and is being tried for attempted murder.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “What makes matters worse is the decline in family visits, due to the judges’ strike and the reluctance of public prosecutors to issue permits, in addition to the exorbitant cost of transportation… No one is showing any mercy.”

“Most of the prisoners are now sentenced to death, not as a result of court rulings, but because of viruses and the loss of medicine and food,” he remarked.

He revealed however, that some “detainees or convicts are held in 5-star prisons because they are affiliated with parties and politicians.”

Abdel Karim’s account represents a small sample of the prison crisis, which has returned to the fore, especially with the increase in the number of deaths as a result of the spread of diseases and viruses and the absence of medical services, amid an indifference of international organizations and civil society bodies.

This situation portends an internal movement that would perhaps extend to the Lebanese street, making the prisons “time bombs that are ready to explode,” according to the head of the Human Rights Committee, MP Michel Moussa.

Member of the Parliamentary Administration and Justice Committee, MP Imad Al-Hout, said the prison file was “thorny and complex and requires urgent action to limit its danger and repercussions.”

He noted that parliament was “studying a bill that stipulates reducing the prison year, allowing the release of a large number of prisoners, given the paralysis affecting the work of the judiciary and the absence of health care.”

A security source revealed that there were 25 official prisons in Lebanon, holding about 8,000 inmates. The largest is Roumieh Central Prison, which includes 3,700 convicts and detainees, while its capacity does not exceed 1,500.

The source added that the convicts serving sentences in all prisons ranged between 13 and 15 percent, while the remaining percentage (about 85 percent) is for detainees whose trial has not been completed.

Meanwhile, Minister of Interior and Municipalities in the caretaker government, Bassam al-Mawlawi, pledged to “seek to find clear solutions” to the prison crisis.

In a speech delivered on General Security Day, he said the issue “has two sides. The first relates to the weak capabilities, and the other and most important aspect is prison overcrowding and consequently lack of discipline.”

“Be patient,” he pleaded to prisoners.

The minister rejected criticism of the General Security, saying: “We will not accept an attack on public security, because it is a national institution… and its goal is to preserve institutions and build the state.”

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