Scores of political prisoners
(This report covers the period January-December 1997)
Scores of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, were arrested by the security forces. Some were released without charge after a few days, but most were charged and tried. Several political detainees received trials which fell short of international standards. At least 17 people were sentenced to death and five were executed. A militia allied to Israel continued to hold at least 150 prisoners in south Lebanon. Scores of civilians were killed in military attacks in south Lebanon, some of which appeared to be deliberate attacks on civilian targets or attacks in which no attempt was made to distinguish between civilians and military targets. The fate of thousands of people abducted by armed groups in previous years remained unknown.
In August a cabinet meeting chaired by President Elias al-Hrawi charged the army, the internal security forces, and the Public Prosecutor's office with the task of pursuing those who call for revolts and civil disobedience. This decision apparently followed a demonstration in the Beqaa' Valley in July organized by Sheikh Subhi al-Tufayli, former Secretary General of Hizbullah, Party of God _ the main armed group fighting Israel's presence in south Lebanon _ who called for a hunger revolt and civil disobedience. Lebanese troops were deployed in the central and northern valleys of the Beqaa' for the first time since the mid-1970s.
The government granted additional licences to television and radio stations in July bringing the total number authorized under the 1996 law regulating audio-visual media (see Amnesty International Report 1997) to six private television and 15 radio stations. However, in September a radio station, Sawt Beirut (Voice of Beirut), owned by the opposition group the Lebanese Popular Congress, was closed down after the security forces surrounded the building. Two other stations, the sawt al-haq (Voice of Right) radio and al-Hilal (Crescent) television, belonging to the Islamic Unification Movement, were forcibly closed after the security forces stormed their building and clashed with protesters.
Conflict continued in south Lebanon in and around Israel's self-declared security zone between the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and Israel's proxy militia, the South Lebanon Army (SLA) on the one hand, and Hizbullah on the other. Civilian casualties were reported on both sides of the conflict, but most resulted from attacks mounted by the IDF and SLA in retaliation for Hizbullah operations.
With the agreement of the Lebanese Government, Syrian forces remained deployed throughout most of the country.
The International Monitoring Group, formed in 1996 as a result of the April Understanding (see Amnesty International Report 1997) met 25 times throughout the year. In April Lebanon acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
In April the UN Human Rights Committee considered Lebanon's second periodic report on its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Among other things, the Committee expressed concern about arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment; urged the government to review its capital punishment policy and legislation; and called on Lebanon to bring its legislation into full compliance with the provisions of the ICCPR.
Scores of people, including prisoners of conscience, were arrested on security grounds or for political reasons. Some were released without charge, but most were charged and tried or were standing trial at the end of the year. Elias Abu Rizq, former President of the General Trade Union Confederation (CGTL), was detained for nine days in May, charged with impersonating the current head of CGTL and usurping authority. He was a prisoner of conscience. In July Elias Abu Rizq and Yassir Nehmeh, former Secretary General of the CGTL, were charged with damaging the prestige of the state abroad and undermining its financial credibility. No date had been determined for their trial by the end of the year.
In December dozens of people were arrested in Beirut, the capital, in connection with a demonstration against the government's banning of a live television interview with the former military leader General Michel 'Aoun. Police and security forces used tear-gas, batons, and water canons to disperse the demonstrators, at least seven of whom were injured. Those detained included Hikmat Dib, an engineer who had been detained in 1994 and reportedly tortured (see Amnesty International Report 1995). They were possible prisoners of conscience. All were released the following day.
More than 70 people were arrested in September when the security forces forcibly closed down television and radio stations belonging to the Islamic Unification Movement in Tripoli, north Lebanon. Two men, Khaled al-Wazze and 'Abd al-Hadi al-Masri, died in clashes between the security forces and the members and sympathizers of the Islamic Unification Movement who were protesting against the closure. The authorities launched an investigation into the circumstances of the deaths. Forty-eight of those arrested were charged with obstructing the security forces and appeared before the military court in Beirut in September. The court acquitted 17, fined six, and transferred one to a juvenile court. 'Abd al-Nasser Qaddur and Bilal al-Zu'bi were sentenced to prison terms of two and three weeks, respectively, and the remaining 22 were sentenced to up to five days' imprisonment.
Derar al-Karmi, a Jordanian national working for a Beirut hotel, was reportedly arrested by Syrian military intelligence in January and taken to Syria where he was held incommunicado for three weeks before being released without charge or trial. The reasons for his arrest were not disclosed by the Lebanese or the Syrian authorities.
Ahmad Hamad, a medical doctor and suspected member of the pro-Iraqi wing of the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party, was believed to have been arrested in 'Akkar, north Lebanon, by Syrian military intelligence and subsequently transferred to Syria. His whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year.
Rafiq Abu Younes, who had been detained in Syria since 1994 for his alleged links with the pro-Iraqi wing of the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party, was released in April. Hassan Gharib, Zafer al-Muqadam and Hani Shu'aib, Lebanese nationals detained in Syria for alleged links with the pro-Iraqi wing of the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party, remained in detention (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997). About 200 Lebanese detained in Syria in previous years remained held at the end of the year (see Syria entry).
Several political prisoners were sentenced after trials which fell short of international fair trial standards. In January Antoinette Chahin, a student who was alleged to have been involved in the assassination of the priest Sam'an al-Khoury in 1992, was sentenced to death, commuted to life imprisonment with hard labour. According to the court's verdict, the killing of Sam'an al-Khoury had been planned and carried out by the Lebanese Forces, of which Antoinette Chahin was allegedly a member. Other defendants, including Sa'd Jibra'il, Jihad Abi Ramia, and Rashid Daw, were each sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment with hard labour. Two others, Antoinette Chahin's brother, Jean Chahin, and George Bakhous, were sentenced to death in absentia. The trial was seriously flawed. The convictions were apparently based on confessions by some of the defendants which were allegedly extracted under torture and were retracted in court. An appeal filed by the lawyers of Antoinette Chahin and other defendants was upheld by the Court of Cassation. A retrial scheduled to start in November was postponed to February 1998.
The trial of 20 people charged with the killing of Sheikh Nizar al-Halabi, leader of the al-Ahbash movement (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997) concluded in January before the Justice Council. The Justice Council, whose verdicts are final, sentenced four people to death and 16 others to sentences ranging from one year to life imprisonment. Of those sentenced to death, three were executed (see below). The fourth, Ahmad 'Abd al-Karim al-Sa'di (also known as Abu Mahjan), leader of 'Usbat al-Ansar, the group which allegedly perpetrated the killing, was sentenced in absentia. Twenty members of 'Usbat al-Ansar were also referred to the military court on charges of terrorist attacks and blowing up businesses selling alcohol in Sidon since 1993.
In April the Military Court of Appeal upheld the verdict, passed in 1995 by the military court in Beirut, on Hanan Yasin and her co-defendants for their role in a 1994 bombing which killed three people, including two members of Hizbullah (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997), but reduced the sentence imposed on Hanan Yasin from 15 to 12 years' imprisonment.
The trials of seven people accused of collaboration with Israel took place in May before the military court in Beirut. Among the defendants were Tony Shamieh, a journalist arrested in March; the brothers Wisam, Marwan, and Jirjis Khawand; Tony Abu Musa; Elias al-Halit; and Jean Saliba, who was tried in absentia. Most were former members of the Guardians of the Cedar Party. Sentences imposed ranged from one to 15 years' imprisonment. Most of the defendants claimed that they had been beaten by the military intelligence interrogators to extract confessions. No independent investigation was initiated into these or other allegations of torture reported during the year.
At least 17 people were sentenced to death, most convicted of murder, including Ahmad Rida Yasin, who was sentenced to death for murder by the Court of Cassation in October. Five people were executed. Two Palestinians, Munir 'Abbud and Khalid Muhammad Hamid and a Lebanese, Ahmad al-Kasm, were executed in March after being convicted of the killing of Sheikh Nizar al-Halabi (see above). Muhammad Mahmoud Kour and Hasan Jamal 'Attiyah, an Egyptian, were executed in March and April respectively; both had been convicted of murder.
In south Lebanon dozens of people were arrested by the SLA or the IDF and were either held without charge or trial at the Khiam detention centre, or transferred to Israel (see Israel and the Occupied Territories entry). Some were released after weeks or months in detention in Khiam. Ahmad Kamil Sa'id, a student, was arrested by the IDF and held in Khiam for a month before being released. Roger Nahra, a journalist, and three of his relatives were arrested by the IDF in July. Roger Nahra and two of his relatives were released after five weeks in Khiam, but Michel Nahra, a retired policeman, remained detained at the end of the year. Other Lebanese detainees in Khiam included 12-year-old Mazen 'Abdallah. A total of 53 detainees were released from Khiam during the year. At least 150 prisoners, most of them suspected members of armed groups opposed to the Israeli presence in Lebanon, or their relatives, continued to be held by the SLA outside any legal framework in Khiam at the end of the year. Visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross and by prisoners' families were suspended by the SLA in September.
During the year scores of Lebanese civilians were killed in military attacks in south Lebanon, some of which appeared to be deliberate attacks on civilian targets or attacks in which no attempt was made to distinguish between civilians and military targets. In August three civilians were killed, including two children of an SLA commander, in Jezzine, south Lebanon, as a result of bombardment and shelling; Hizbullah denied responsibility. Seven civilians were killed and 36 wounded when a Jezzine-based militia allied to the SLA retaliated by shelling residential areas of Sidon in what appeared to be a deliberate attack on civilian areas. In November at least seven civilians were killed and others wounded when mortar shells were fired at the village of Beit Lif in south Lebanon in an attack for which no group had claimed responsibility by the end of the year. Scores of civilians were killed in south Lebanon throughout the year, mostly as a result of IDF and SLA shelling.
The fate of thousands of people, including Palestinians, Lebanese and other nationals abducted in Lebanon by armed groups since 1975, remained unknown.
Amnesty International delegates visited Lebanon and raised the organization's concerns with government. In April Amnesty International received a response from the Lebanese authorities to its memorandum, submitted in September 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997), which provided information on specific cases, but did not address the organization's substantive concerns.
Amnesty International published Israel/
South Lebanon: Israel's forgotten hostages _ Lebanese detainees in Israel and Khiam Detention Centre in July; and Lebanon: Human rights developments and violations in October, which highlighted human rights violations since the end of the war in 1990. In December Amnesty International received an official response to its report from the Lebanese Government which addressed some aspects of the report and stressed that Lebanese laws and the Constitution provide for fundamental human rights guarantees. However, the response failed to address the organization's substantive concerns.
Throughout the year Amnesty International urged the authorities to release
prisoners of conscience, guarantee fair trial for political prisoners, investigate allegations of torture, and commute death sentences.
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