Activist decries unchanged Roumieh conditions


BEIRUT: The Internal Security Forces have failed to deliver on their promises to improve living conditions at Roumieh Prison, driving dozens of prisoners to go on hunger strikes, senior human rights activist Ali Akil Khalil said Thursday.

“Instead of implementing reforms at Roumieh prison, prisoners and detainees have been inhumanely treated,” he told a news conference in Beirut.

Khalil, who is Lebanon’s ambassador to the International Human Rights Organization, released photos of detainees and prisoners in Roumieh which he says show that they were subjected to beatings last month.

“Four inmates have died and more than 60 others were injured … [which is] contrary to the [account of the] security forces, who have said that two prisoners died and only 14 were injured,” Khalil added.

Prison inmates announced a hunger strike Wednesday to protest the indifference of the authorities in taking steps to improve the dire situation at the country’s most notorious jail.

But the ISF has denied that prisoners are on a hunger strike in Roumieh prison, saying that false reports from inside the prison are stirring up panic among the families of the inmates.

According to Khalil, several prisoners called him following the prison riots last month and urged him to help save an inmate’s life. “They told me that Hatem Zein is severely ill and needs to be hospitalized.”

Last month’s large-scale rioting in Roumieh, which included a fire set by inmates, sparked a debate over prison conditions, and eventually generated promises by the authorities to alleviate overcrowding and other problems at the facility.

“I phoned the head of the Gendarmerie [part of the ISF] around midnight and he vowed to send an ambulance … but two hours later Zein was transferred to the prison’s infirmary instead of a hospital,” Khalil added.

Zein passed away less than 24 hours later said Khalil, before showing photographs of injured inmates in the Roumieh Prison.

An inmate’s son, Nour Sabra, who was present at the conference, told The Daily Star that his father’s health had severely deteriorated after a judge refused to release him.

“I want to know what’s going to happen to my dad, who is suffering from a severe tissue disease,” Sabra added.

According to Sabra, his father was escorted to a hospital visit six months ago by security forces, during which doctors warned the family that his gangrene may lead to cancer if not treated.

“But until now, judges have refused to grant him permission to leave his cell for a follow-up treatment at a proper hospital,” said Sabra.

Later Thursday, Khalil told The Daily Star that over 100 prisoners from Block D of the Roumieh Prison have joined the hunger strike, and several inmates have been placed in seclusion.

But the head of the Gendarmerie, Brigadier Salah Jebran, told The Daily Star that reports of beating and torture inside the Roumieh Prison amounted to mere rumors.

“I have personally been working and checking on the prisoners every day,” said Jebran, adding that some people involved in advocating for prisoner rights are driven by “personal interests.”

But Jebran added it was absurd to keep “out of control” inmates with normal ones, in reference to a number of prisoners who are drug addicts.

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