Being Gay Is Worse Than Being ISIS: 2 Lebanese Men Tortured For 3 Weeks in Prison Over Their Sexuality

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.

 

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Bashar Assad And The Syrian Regime

I still remember what it felt like to be thirteen. Going to school every day, nothing on my mind but getting good grades and catching up with the latest Pokemon episode. Life was as carefree as it could be. Thirteen also happens to be my favorite number, not because I was born on the thirteenth, but because many people find the number to be an omen. Do I believe in all those things though? Absolutely not, but thirteen is a number that makes me happy.

However, that rule does not apply today.
I’m always saddened when I hear about youngsters passing away. It’s always sad when you know someone approximately your age going through an ordeal such as cancer. You pray for them and hope that the doctors (or whichever mystical power you believe in, I shall call it God) and God help that person out. And you’re always filled with joy when you hear the cancer has gone into remission.
For a young thirteen year old by the name of Hamza Khatib, the number thirteen was the last candle he would blow out on his birthday cake. Why so? Because he fell victim to a brutal tyrant known as Bashar Assad, the head of the Syrian regime in its current form.

Hamza Khatib was used as target practice. The bullets were not used to kill Hamza but to torture him. Imagine anyone being shot repeatedly in the arms and legs just because someone felt like it – now imagine that “anyone” be a frightened thirteen year old whose only fault was expressing, in the only way that he knows, his opinion in a country where that luxury is not given.
Hamza Khatib was castrated and his hands, feet, and abdomen were severely beaten. Overall, men in power who don’t care about him being so young and innocent subjected this teenager, for a period of well over a month, to most signs of abuse and torture imaginable.

This is how Hamza was returned to his parents.

Alas, we should know better. Hafez Assad, Bashar’s father, once proclaimed: “Lebanon and Syria… one people in two countries.” We all know the phrase. It was written, after all, on every wall around the barracks the Syrian army and security apparatus occupied in Lebanon for over thirty years. So, since we are “one people in two countries,” it is our right, as Lebanese, to demand the regime in Syria to fall. We’re only going by the teachings of the “great” Hafez Assad, after all.
I don’t want to bring up being Lebanese in every talk about Syria, but we Lebanese were subjected to what Hamza Khatib has been through but to a far worse degree and for a much longer period of time. How many of our men and women are handicapped today because of things the Syrian regime did to them? How many media outlets were intimidated, censored, or closed (anyone remember what happened to MTV in 2002)?  How many of our fine men and women are still missing today and how many martyrs have we buried because “brotherly” Syria stated that Lebanese security was tied to Syrian security?

We, Lebanese have suffered from Syrian hypocrisy even when it comes to our land. Bashar Assad (and his father before him) made it their job to point out how our South was occupied by Israel, day and night. They made it their duty as well to arm Hezbollah and work on making it as strong as it is today, giving it an allure of grandeur that Hezbollah does not, honestly, possess. And yet, look at their land. They have an area that is about 17% the size of Lebanon occupied by the Israeli army for over forty years now and yet they don’t even dare talk about its liberation. Why is it that they are only feisty and defendant of this “glorious” thing called Arabism when it comes to our South and yet when it comes to their land, they’re ever so silent?

Israel occupied South Lebanon until 2000, yet a much worse form of tyranny occupied the rest of Lebanon. From handpicking the presidential candidates, to extending presidential mandates, to rigging elections, censoring media outlets, playing politicians off one and another (Hariri vs. Lahoud) and controlling the security apparatus, Syria dominated nearly every aspect of Lebanon as if it was its own personal fiefdom and all in the name of “brotherly” security. What is sad is that Syria still has its proxies in Lebanon today to fight its battles outside its borders. These proxies pay regular tributes to Damascus for protection of their own parliament seats and sect, all in the guise of “brotherly” relations and fighting Israel, all the while thanking Syria for its “presence in Lebanon”. They constantly threaten that instability in Syria would be no good for Lebanon. Even worse these proxies recently spat in the face of the Syrian protestors by supporting the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings while declaring that Syria is merely facing a Western backed conspiracy and that Lebanese must stand by this power hungry tyrant. But how different can those people be from the regime and person they support? After all, Assad brutally killed every Lebanese that stood in his path for the thirty years of Syrian occupation, without caring – even remotely – about human life. That makes him a war criminal.

The Syrian people are going through some of the similar events we went through for thirty years such as tanks shelling their towns and villages, and innocent civilians disappearing because they were crying out for liberty. They are making the same calls we made in 2005, calls for independence and freedom, and no to rigged elections and brutal security services. The Syrian people need to revolt, for the innocent souls of the likes of Hamza Khatib and the hundreds of other martyrs that have fallen victim for this tyrant since the protests started on March 15th.

Assad put forth the strategy of a minorities coalition, whispering in the ears of Lebanese and Syrian Christians alike that such an alliance is needed to safe guard minority rights against Islamic fundamentalists. His actions, however, proved otherwise. Look at what happened in the 1990s, Maronites were robbed of their political perogatives, with their major parties banned and political leaders jailed and tortured.The Syrian people need to speak now because now is the time for action and they will not get a better chance.

“The Syrian regime is dealing like the old-fashion Soviet regime, imposing the reign of terror.  When we talk about fighting for democracy, fighting for freedom, it isn’t only words.  We know the smell of blood, we know the smell of dynamite, we know what “gun” means and what “threaten” means.  They can only kill you…. And we know that sometime we’ll be assassinated.”   -Gibran Tueni

So for children like Hamza, their families, and the future of the Syrian people, the time to get Bashar Assad, his tyranny, and his regime to fall is now… after all, I was once thirteen too.

The following is a YouTube video of the brutality Hamza Al Khatib has been through. It is very graphic. So only watch it if you can take in brutal imagery of human torture.

Thanks to Ali Seifeddine and Boulos for their input.

They Should Not Be Forgotten

Lebanese Detainees in Syria

Amidst the political brouhaha taking place across the Middle East today, I’m afraid we are beginning to forget about a very importance puzzle piece in the face of the Lebanese political situation today.

What has brought this to my attention again were the protests that erupted in Syria on March 15th and the hope that rekindled in me that Syrians would find it in them to take these protests the long way and come out triumphant, toppling down the system that has made their lives – and ours – a living hell.

In Syria today is a group of Lebanese people who, the least you can say about them, have been killed without them dying. How so? Hundreds of Lebanese have been taken as political prisoners to Syria, never to be seen or heard from them again. Sure, the most logical conclusion you can draw is they were killed… but what if they’re not?

These Lebanese prisoners have been slowly turned into second degree political prisoners. Why? because Syria, after all, is not our “mortal enemy” like Israel and therefore, Lebanese prisoners in Syria are not as worthy of attention as their counterparts in Israel. And so the length that some parties go to in order to liberate the prisoners they have in Israeli prisons, they simply do not make for these prisoners, even though they might be the only parties in the country who have the means to currently do so.

Lebanese detainees in Syrian prisons are treated like less than human beings. One of the few who got out alive is a school teacher from Tripoli who told about her torture through a process called the “tire” (Douleib). They basically put her inside a tire and hit her with electric cords, not caring where the cords slammed her. Her eye was hit and it erupted like an egg in a frying pan. They did not care. They kept on hitting her.

Contrast that with Samir Kuntar, who, according to many, has committed one of the worst crimes in Israeli history. He came out of Israeli prison as part of an exchange safe and sound. He even married an Arab Israeli in prison and she received monthly payments because he was a prisoner. And while in prison he also pursued a university degree. When Kuntar was “liberated”, he received a hero’s welcome by the party that sought out his release. When the teacher I mentioned earlier was released, she went into oblivion. And in my mind, that is seriously wrong.

So today, I plead to the humanitarian side of those who still have it. It looks like the political party who has the means to help doesn’t care at all. Therefore, I hope with all my heart that something comes out of the Syrian protests that would lead to some closure for the families of the Lebanese detainees and hopefully a new page in the story of the Lebanon-Syria relationship where we are seen as equals and not a province that wasn’t.