Inmates’ families stage rallies nationwide

BEIRUT: Families of inmates in the country’s prisons Tuesday staged demonstrations nationwide to protest the government’s failure to take action to reduce prison sentences.

The day-long protest also called for a general amnesty for all prisoners and detainees in Lebanon’s prisons, which, according to human rights activists and organizations, are overcrowded and have poor living conditions.

While there had been several reports that protesters might stage riots in front of Lebanon’s largest prison Roumieh, movements throughout the day were limited and took place away from Roumieh, which has witnessed in the past confrontations between protesters and the Internal Security Forces and Lebanese Army.

Dozens of men and women, however, blocked the country’s major highways with burning tires Tuesday and chanted slogans condemning the government’s failure to implement a long-promised policy to reduce one year of a prison sentence to nine months.

A security source told the Daily Star that, simultaneous with the protests, inmates were mulling their own demonstration through a large-scale hunger strike inside Roumieh.

A three-day riot in the Roumieh prison in April left at least four people dead and almost 10 others injured, after the ISF and the army carried out a joint-raid to prevent a possible large-scale prison break.

Considered the largest jail in the country, Roumieh prison was built for around 1,500 prisoners, but presently houses more than 5,000 inmates.

Since April, inmates’ families and civil organizations working to ensure prisoners’ rights have stepped up their calls on the government to pass a law that would reduce prison sentences and make way for a general amnesty. So far, the Parliament has not drafted a law aimed at reducing prison sentence.

Meanwhile, ISF personnel were heavily deployed in and around the Roumieh prison from the early hours of Tuesday morning and there was no rioting in the area.

Families of inmates first blocked the highway leading to Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport and the Msharrafiyeh road, creating severe traffic congestion at the southern gate of Beirut.

When the ISF managed to reopen the blocked roads, protesters relocated the demonstration to other areas in and around Beirut including Mar Mikhail, Burj al-Barajneh, Tayyouneh and the Sayyad roundabout.

Protests also spread across the Bekaa, where families of inmates blocked the road leading to the Bekaa towns of Britel and Riyyak. ISF units quickly reopened the roads.

Other demonstrations took place in Dinniyeh, Qobba and Tripoli in the north of the country.

“We repeatedly warned the government not to let things get to this point … we said, ‘Do not force us to go on to the streets and take our rights, even by force,’” said Khodor Habib, who heads the detainees committees and was one of the protest’s organizers.

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