13 March 2002
AI Index MDE 18/004/2002 - News Service Nr. 45
Lebanon: Amnesty International expresses concerns at violations in pre-trial detention of Tawfiq al-Hindi and co-defendants

On Thursday 14 March 2002, the Military Court of Beirut is scheduled to hand down sentences on two separate but inter-related trials of political prisoners accused of "collaboration" with Israel. The first case involves Tawfiq al-Hindi, a leading member of the unauthorized Lebanese Forces party and Antoine Bassil, Elie Kerouz, and Salman Samaha as well as others tried in absentia,  as co-defendants. The main accused in the second case include two journalists Antoine Bassil, and Habib Younes. All of them were arrested by the Military Intelligence, mostly without warrants, between 7 and 18 August 2001 and subsequently charged with, among other things, "collaboration" with Israel, conspiracy, and withholding information. Amnesty International  is concerned that the accused were allegedly subjected to torture and ill-treatment and held incommunicado for prolomged periods during pre-trial detention. All of the accused said in court that they had been forced to sign statements, which they had not read, and all claimed that they were coerced to "confess" their guilt or testify against themselves or others. All of the accused retracted the statements attributed to them by the interrogators and have denied all of the charges against them.

"The Lebanese authorities should establish an impartial and independent judicial investigation into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment by the accused, and ensure that any statement established to have been made as a result of torture or ill-treatment is not used as evidence against the accused," the organization said. Most of the accused alleged that they were subjected to physical and psychological torture and otherwise ill-treated while held incommunicado at the Ministry of Defence in al-Yerze, for up to eight days. They were reportedly denied contact with their families, lawyers or doctors and were allegedly subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, listening to voices of people being tortured, and the torture method known as balanco (hanging by the wrists which are tied behind the back). "The Lebanese authorities must respect the rights of every person to liberty and security, to be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, to freedom from torture and ill-treatment, to be presumed innocent until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt in the course of a fair trial," Amnesty International said. The authorities must further ensure that anyone charged with a criminal offence is not compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt, in accordance with Article 14(3)(g) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Lebanon is a state party.

Furthermore Article 15 of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Lebanon ratified in October 2000, provides that "any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made". Background

In August 2001, about 200 activists, including students and teenagers, suspected of being members of the outlawed opposition groups, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, were arrested by the Military Intelligence from different locations in the capital Beirut and Mount Lebanon. Amnesty International expressed its concern at the time of the arrests that these individuals may have been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association. Most of those arrested were subsequently released either on bail or without charge. In December 2001, Tawfiq al-Hindi, Antoine Bassil and their co-defendants - all of them civilians - were formally indicted on charges of "collaboration" with Israel and referred for trial before the Military Court of Beirut.

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