You, as a Lebanese, are as irrelevant as a cockroach. Your rights are the doormat every single person with power steps on to ascend up the scale of political prowess.
A couple of weeks ago, two minute-long videos were leaked out of Roumieh jail. They featured security officers beating up on Islamist suspects – people who have not been convicted yet. I won’t be sharing the videos here, because there’s no point in propagating such barbaric things.
Mini-Lebanese-hell broke loose as a consequence. In the quiet Ramadan month, politically, the bombshell of torture happening in Lebanese jail – surprise, surprise! – got some people on the streets burning tires, blocking roads. It got Ashraf Rifi, our minister of justice, up in a fit as to how such a thing could ever happen – how shocking – but we all know it was because those tortured are Sunni.
Many were ecstatic about the videos, as I was able to assess with the sheer enthusiasm that many of my Facebook friends shared them. Human rights are not an argument to some people it seemed: those people killed our soldiers, they’d shout at you. Sure, they might have… but how are we better than them if we film them being humiliated and then use those videos for political fuel? Oh, you just love ISIS.
But this post is not about ISIS torture videos.
Another reaction that took place when the Roumieh videos surfaced was utter shock that such stuff happen in Lebanese jails. Torture? In Lebanon? Mais c’est pas possible? Le liban est le plus beau pays du monde, oh mon dieu.
Those people clearly lived in their version of Lebanese Switzerland where Beirut served as a Middle Eastern Geneva. The wake-up call that they got to realize that they were indeed living in a third world country where their value is worthless was shocking: this is not a land where human rights are scripture, where your value as a human being is paramount and where your sanctity is holy.
The story of Roy Azar, who had a sound grenade aimed at his chest, killing him a few weeks before his release time, was never front-page news. Roy Azar is not fuel for Ashraf Rifi to ride on the Sunni-anger bandwagon.
The story of Jamil Abou Ghina who died of a heart attack due to the severe torture he experienced at the hand of sadists in Lebanese jail was not front-page news. Jamil Abou Ghina was not filmed being beaten up and laughed at by some irrelevant security officer who probably got orders from high above to do so.
But this isn’t about Jamil or Roy either.
L’Orient Le Jour broke a story a few days ago that I think everyone should read (link). It’s the story of torture that also took place recently, but clearly did not get the attention that a terrorist getting beaten up in Roumieh got.
On June 9th, 2015, Omar and his friend Samer were on their way to spend the weekend in the South when they were stopped at a checkpoint that found a few grams of weed in their car. So they were arrested, their belongings confiscated, and were taken to be interrogated and ended up spending the night in jail where they were subjected to drug testing, all of which turned out negative.
So with no more charges under their belt, our lovely police officers went through Omar’s phone conversation with his friend Samer and noticed that he called him “habibi.” So they accused Omar of being homosexual, which he denied. Then they took out the negative drug test result, told him it was positive, in an attempt to get him to give out details about drug dealers in Beirut. When that failed, they brought out his friend Samer, stripped him and started beating him up with their hands, with their canes. They submerged his head in icy water, in attempt to get them to confess to both drugs and homosexuality charges.
Samer was beaten up, drowned, electrocuted. He ended up confessing to the charges. Then they started torturing Omar to give our names of people in the Lebanese gay community, which he didn’t do. It was then that the police called Omar and Samer’s parents and told them that their children were gay.
When Omar and Samer’s parents arrived to the place where they were held, they were not allowed to see their children. When they asked if their children had been tortured, the officer assured them: walaw? Where do you think we live?
The two men spent 6 days in Tyre where they were faced with a choice: either get beaten up or give out names of gay men in Lebanon. Then they were transferred to the infamous Hobeich police station, where they stayed for 5 days, in a 20 squared meter cells with 20 other people. Then they were transferred to holding in Saida where they stayed for 8 days, with 200 other prisoners who were informed by the security officers there that Omar and Salem were homosexuals.
Omar was then released two days later after being seen by a judge. His friend Samer was kept in jail, until L’Orient Le Jour contacted Nohad el Machnouk who took it upon himself to address the issue. Samer was liberated 30 minutes later.
Of course, the story of Omar and Samer did not receive front-page attention in Lebanon. No one burned tires. No one closed roads. No one got upset. It simply passed by, like any other piece of news, irrelevant and useless.
Why would a Lebanese MP care? Defending the rights of two men who were violated in such a way does not help him with a populace that only seems to care when the issue is sectarian.
Why would Ashraf Rifi, the minister of justice, care that severe injustice has befallen Lebanese citizens when those citizens are maybe not Sunni, or not in any way material for him to further fuel his ascension atop the Future Movement in the absence of Saad?
Why would the Lebanese populace care about two men who were beaten up, electrocuted, humiliated, and have their reputation ruined?
Why would the staunch new-found defenders of human rights who popped out of the blue after the surfacing of the Roumieh videos also rise up to the mantel after such a horrific story as well?
Omar and Samer are just one example in a growing list of stories of torture across the Lebanese Republic. The only difference is this time Omar spoke up for himself and his friend.
How many Lebanese are there among us who have had to suffer horrific transgressions just for falling under the pawns of some barbaric animal with power and are too afraid to tell their story for fear of repercussions? How many stories are there, similar to that of Omar and Samer, of people who are being violated just because someone in power felt like it? How many Lebanese are there, who have been accused of drug possession, of drug use, of homosexuality, or any other charge, had to be subjected to severe transgressions just because?
The sad part is that there will be people in the country to say that Omar and Samer deserve what they got, just as there were people who say those prisoners in Roumieh deserve what they got as well. Welcome to the Republic of shame, we offer you 18 sects, diversity, a capital with identity issues, mountains close to the sea, and 21-st century torture to feast your eyes, senses and human rights.