Annual Report on Lebanon (1996)
Amnesty International

Scores of possible prisoners of conscience were arrested by the security forces. Most were briefly detained and released without charge. Several political prisoners were tried and sentenced after trials, some aspects of which fell short of international standards. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment continued and one person died in custody. At least one person may have been extrajudicially executed. At least 10 people were sentenced to death and two others were executed. A militia allied to Israel continued to hold prisoners. Israeli forces unlawfully killed Lebanese civilians in southern Lebanon, including over a hundred in a single attack. The fate of thousands of people abducted by armed groups in previous years remained unknown.

In April, Israel launched operation "Grapes of Wrath", which lasted 17 days and was directed against Hizbullah, Party of God, the main armed group fighting Israel and its allied militia, the South Lebanon Army (sla) in and around Israel's self-declared "security zone". For the duration of the operation, Israel maintained a steady barrage of fire from its artillery, air and naval forces on southern Lebanon resulting in the displacement of more than 300,000 Lebanese from their homes. At least 154 Lebanese civilians were killed as a result of the Israeli operation, 102 of them when Israeli artillery shelled a un compound in which they were sheltering. Throughout the operation, Hizbullah fired Katyusha rockets on populated areas of northern Israel on a daily basis, but no Israeli civilians were reported to have died. The operation ended after a new, written "understanding" was reached between the warring parties which included provisions for the protection of civilians and established a Monitoring Group consisting of the usa, France, Syria, Lebanon and Israel. The Group had met six times by the end of the year to look at complaints of breaches of the "understanding".

In March, the Lebanese Government ordered the army to take over responsibility for internal security for three months. The decision followed the announcement by the General Workers' Union of its intention to organize a strike and other protest actions to demand pay rises, the doubling of the minimum wage and a guarantee of rights and freedoms.

Parliamentary elections were held in August and September. For the first time Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, who contested and won a seat in Beirut, formed a parliamentary bloc of his own. He was again appointed premier by President Elias al-Hrawi, in consultation with the new parliament, and a new government was formed in November. With the agreement of the Lebanese Government, Syrian forces remained deployed throughout most of the country.

In September, the Lebanese Government issued a new law regulating audio-visual media, which restricted broadcasting to six television and 12 radio stations. The remaining media companies were given until the end of November to submit new applications for licences or face liquidation, a deadline which was later extended. The new measures met opposition from various political and interest groups, who repeatedly organized protest actions demanding the repeal of the new law, which they believed would restrict freedom of expression.

Scores of possible prisoners of conscience were arrested by the security forces during the year. At least 76 people, mainly from Christian opposition groups, were arrested following an attack in December on a Syrian minibus in which the driver was killed and a passenger wounded. Those arrested included human rights defender Wa'el Kheir, Director of the Foundation for Human and Humanitarian Rights, and Pierre 'Atallah, an editor on al-Nahar newspaper, as well as a number of lawyers and other professionals. All those detained were released after questioning, the majority without charge. Two, including Pierre 'Atallah, were charged with distributing leaflets and making contact with Israel. None were charged for the attack on the Syrian minibus. Allegations of torture were made by some of the detainees. All those detained were possible prisoners of conscience.

About 25 members of the al-mu'tamar al-sha'bi al-lubnani, Lebanese Popular Congress (lpc), a Nasserite-oriented organization, were arrested throughout the year. In February, six lpc members were arrested for displaying placards criticizing government policies. They were tried on charges of disruption of public order and security and acquitted by the Criminal Court of Beirut. Five other lpc members were arrested in March for distributing the Congress newspaper Sawt Beirut, and released the same day without charge. In September, 11 lpc members were arrested for burning the us flag after the Friday sermon in front of al-Tariq al-Jadida mosque in Beirut. They were released the following day without charge. Another five lpc members arrested in October for burning the Israeli flag were detained for five days and released without charge. One of the five, Muhammad Sannu, a student, was allegedly beaten during his arrest.

Possible prisoners of conscience were also among members of the al-mu'tamar al-watani al-lubnani, Lebanese National Congress (lnc) _ followers of former military leader General Michel 'Aoun _ detained during parliamentary elections in August, mostly in connection with distribution of leaflets calling for a boycott of the elections. All were released without charge after brief periods of detention. They included Faris Anton, Michel Chukri, and Ziad Karam, reportedly arrested by military intelligence officers in Jubail and released after several hours of interrogation, and students Tareq Trabulsi, Khalil Harfuch and Camille Harfuch, who were allegedly arrested by unidentified armed men accompanied by a police officer and illegally detained for one night in Brummanah in the Metn district. A further nine lnc members were reportedly arrested in September by the Syrian intelligence forces in Lebanon, interrogated in Zahle and Chtourah and released the following day without charge. They were also possible prisoners of conscience.

Zafer al-Muqadam and Hani Chu'aib were arrested in February on suspicion of membership of the unauthorized pro-Iraqi wing of the Arab Socialist Ba'th party and transferred to Syria. Most of the 13 members of the pro-Iraqi wing of the party detained in 1994 and taken to Syria (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 and 1996) were released. Two of them, Rafiq Abu Younes and Hasan Gharib, remained in detention in Syria without charge or trial. At least 200 Lebanese detained in Syria in previous years also remained held at the end of the year. Although some received family visits, most were reportedly held in incommunicado detention (see Syria entry).

Several political prisoners were tried and sentenced after trials which in some aspects fell short of international fair trial standards. The trial of Samir Gea'gea', leader of the banned Lebanese Forces (lf), and seven other lf members for the bombing of a church in 1994 (see Amnesty International Annual Reports 1995 and 1996) resumed before the Justice Court and concluded in July. Samir Gea'gea' was acquitted of the charges relating to the church bombing, but sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for "maintaining a militia in the guise of a political party" and "dealing with military weapons and explosives". Fu'ad Malek, his deputy, was sentenced on the same charges to three years' imprisonment, reduced immediately to one and a half years. Jirjis al-Khoury was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. Antonios Elias Elias, Ruchdi Tawfiq Ra'd and Jean Yusuf Chahin, who were tried in absentia, were sentenced to death. Paul and Rafiq al-Fahal were acquitted for lack of evidence. Jirjis al-Khoury, who retracted his initial statements in 1995, alleging that they had been extracted under torture, maintained his retraction when the trial resumed. However, the court rejected the torture claim on the basis of a medical report and the testimony of the prison doctor, who stated that he had examined the defendant during the interrogation period. No independent judicial investigation appeared to have been ordered into this case.

Ahmad Hallaq, who had been tried in absentia in 1995 for the killing of three people, including two members of Hizbullah, in an explosion in December 1994 (see Amnesty International Reports 1995 and 1996), was apprehended in February by Lebanese security forces in Israel's occupied zone and retried. He was sentenced to death in July and executed in September (see below). Appeals against his sentence had been rejected. Ahmad Hallaq's co-defendant, Tawfiq Nasser, who had also been tried in absentia, returned to the country earlier and gave himself up. He was retried with Ahmad Hallaq and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. Hanan Yassin, Ahmad Hallaq's wife, who was serving a 15-year sentence imposed following the original trial, was awaiting a review of her case by the military court of appeal.

The trial of those charged with the assassination of Sheikh Nizar al-Halabi, leader of the al-Ahbash movement (see Amnesty International Report 1996), started in May and was still in progress at the end of the year. Twenty defendants, nine Palestinians and 11 Lebanese, were charged with the killing. Three of those charged, including the main defendant, Ahmad 'Abd al-Karim al-Sa'di, known as Abu Mahjan, a Palestinian and leader of 'Usbat al-Ansar, an Islamic group, were being tried in absentia.

There were continuing allegations of torture and ill-treatment in custody. A number of defendants in the Sheikh al-Halabi assassination trial, including Muhammad Ahmad Isma'il, a Palestinian, Hani Subhi al-'Uthman and Tareq Isma'il, retracted statements made during the initial interrogation and before the investigating judge, alleging that they had been extracted under torture.

Torture and ill-treatment of non-political suspects were also reported. In February, a suspected drug-dealer, Munir Mtanios, died in custody, reportedly as a result of torture. It is not known whether any investigation was held. In February and March, the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee discussed reports of torture and urged the government to open an inquiry into allegations of torture and police brutality. The Justice Minister promised to investigate the allegations. In June, a criminal court in Zahle concluded that security force officials had tortured Elya Harb, held on drugs charges, causing him permanent paralysis, and instructed the State Prosecutor to initiate judicial proceedings against these officials.

At least one person may have been extrajudicially executed. In November, Farid Hanna Musalli, a suspect in a financial fraud case, was shot dead by police, who were reportedly trying to arrest him. Seven officers were arrested in connection with the killing and for entering the victim's home without a search warrant. Five were released immediately, but two, Eala Ra'ad and Jean 'Aqal, were remanded in custody. In December, Jean 'Aqal, the commanding officer, was released by the investigating judge in a military court.

At least 10 people were sentenced to death; most had been convicted of murder or spying for Israel. Two men were executed. In September, Ahmad Hallaq was executed by firing-squad in Rumieh prison, two months after his conviction for the December 1994 bombing (see above). All trial and appeals proceedings were completed, and presidential approval obtained in this two-month period. In October, Anas Dhibyan, sentenced to death in July, was executed by a firing-squad in Rumieh prison for the murder of his fiancée and a police officer. Those sentenced to death included Yusuf Ibrahim al-Hashim, sentenced in April in absentia; Hussam Suleiman and Muhammad 'Ali Mustafa, sentenced in May; and Ahmad al-Zamil, Chahin Aybu and Adib 'Abd Sabra, all Syrian nationals, also sentenced in May.

At least 130 prisoners, most of them suspected of membership of armed groups opposed to the Israeli presence in Lebanon, continued to be held by the sla outside any legal framework in the Khiam detention centre in the "security zone". Visits by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and by prisoners' families continued to be permitted (see Amnesty International Report 1996). About 82 prisoners were released during the year. Of these, 45 were released in July in an exchange of bodies and prisoners between Hizbullah on the one hand, and the sla and Israel on the other. Among those who remained in Khiam at the end of the year were Suha Bechara, now the only woman prisoner following the exchange, Mahmud Ramadan, Ni'ma Bazzi, Lafi al-Masri and 'Ali Hijazi. 'Ali Hijazi's medical condition had deteriorated, reportedly as a result of ill-treatment and the absence of adequate medical care. At least 10 Lebanese were abducted in Lebanon and taken to Israel. Six remained in detention in Israel at the end of the year.

Israeli forces killed Lebanese civilians in clear breach of international law in southern Lebanon as a result of the "Grapes of Wrath" operation in April, during which more than 150 civilians died. In addition to the 102 civilians killed in the un compound in Qana, which Amnesty International believed was deliberately attacked, six were killed when an Israeli helicopter fired rockets at an ambulance carrying 13 civilians fleeing the village of al-Mansuri. A further nine civilians were killed when Israeli warplanes demolished a house in Upper Nabatiyya (see Israel and the Occupied Territories entry).

The fate of thousands of people, including Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians and other nationals abducted in Lebanon by armed groups since 1975 remained unclear. They included 'Adnan Hilwani, who went missing in 1982, and Christine and Richard Salim, who were abducted in 1985.

In an oral statement to the UN Commission on Human Rights in February, Amnesty International repeated its call for the release of Lebanese detainees believed to be held in the Khiam detention centre and in Israel, as well as the release of any Israeli soldiers and SLA members missing in Lebanon who were being held as hostages (see Israel and the Occupied Territories entry).

Amnesty International sent a delegation to Lebanon in May to investigate the killing of civilians by Israel in April. In July, the organization published a report, Israel/Lebanon: Unlawful killings during operation "Grapes of Wrath", which called for an Israeli judicial inquiry into the killings and effective protection for all civilians.

In September, Amnesty International delegates met government officials in Lebanon to discuss human rights concerns and submitted a memorandum relating to arbitrary detention, torture, unfair trial and the death penalty. No response had been received from the government by the end of the year. In December, Amnesty International wrote to the authorities requesting information about the progress of the investigation into the killing of Farid Hanna Musalli. Throughout the year Amnesty International urged the authorities to commute all death sentences.