Bashar Abdel-Saud ©Private

Lebanon: Transfer investigation into death in custody of Syrian refugee to the civilian justice system

The heart-wrenching death in custody this week of Bashar Abdel-Saud, a Syrian refugee who was tortured, must serve as a wake-up call to the Lebanese authorities to address torture in their detention facilities, said Amnesty International today.

Lebanese judicial officials have announced an investigation by the military prosecution, however Amnesty International is calling for the investigation and trial to take place before the civilian justice system.

“Bashar Abdel-Saud cruelly died while in the custody of Lebanon’s State Security agency – the images of his bruised, gashed body offer a distressing reminder of the need to urgently implement the 2017 anti-torture law. It is unacceptable for torture to be continuing to occur in Lebanese detention centres and with such brutality – the authorities must put a stop to it immediately,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“While it is a positive measure that a group of security personnel have been remanded in custody for questioning, under human rights law standards, military courts should restrict their jurisdiction to that of military offences by military personnel. To ensure transparency and impartiality, Abdel-Saud’s case must urgently be referred to a civilian court. His family deserves justice and reparations for their tragic loss.”

Security officers arrested Abdel-Saud from his home in Beirut on 30 August, without presenting an arrest warrant. According to Mohammed Sablouh, the lawyer assigned to Abdel-Saud’s case, the family received a call from a State Security official four days later on 3 September, asking them to collect his dead body from their headquarters in Tebneen, Southern Lebanon. Sablouh and the family refuse to collect the body before they receive an independent and comprehensive forensic report from the doctor who has examined the body.

…the images of his [Bashar Abdel-Saud] bruised, gashed body offer a distressing reminder of the need to urgently implement the 2017 anti-torture law.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International

Following the uproar caused by leaked pictures and videos revealing bruises and gashes covering Abdel-Saud’s body article, State Security issued a statement saying that he had been arrested for possession of a fake 50$ bill and that he had “confessed” to being a member of ISIS before he died. They also said that the case would be investigated internally.

On 2 September, the government commissioner of the Military Court examined the body and ordered the detention of five officers in the State Security branch in Tibneen, including the Lieutenant in charge and the officers suspected of committing torture.

Mohammed Sablouh told Amnesty International that the authorities had thus far accused Abdel-Saud of three things: “they said he had fake currency, they said he used and dealt with Captagon, and they said he was a member of ISIS. All these are lies. We need a transparent investigation in the civilian court to know what has happened and who is to be held accountable.”

Bashar Abdel-Saud was 30 years old when he died and had three children, including a one-month old child. He had defected from the Syrian army eight years ago and moved to Lebanon to work as a porter. He lived with his family in the Sabra and Shatila camp for Palestinian refugees in Beirut.

His experience of torture was not an isolated one. In March 2021, Amnesty International released a report documenting an array of violations against 26 Syrian refugees, including four children, held on terrorism-related charges between 2014 and early 2021. Among the violations were unfair trial and torture, which included beatings with metal sticks, electric cables and plastic pipes. Authorities failed to investigate the torture claims, even when detainees or their lawyers told a judge in court that they had been tortured.

Abdel-Saud’s case echoes that of Ziad Itani, a Lebanese actor who was arrested by the State Security agency in December 2017 on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel before being tried before a military court. Itani said State Security officers subjected him to severe torture, including beating him with electric cables, tying him up in metal chains, kicking and punching him in the face, and threatening to rape him. He filed a complaint against them in November 2018 but no further steps have been taken to effectively investigate his torture.

“During Lebanon’s last review by the UN Human Rights Council in 2021, the Lebanese government committed to implement the anti-torture law, investigate all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, hold the perpetrators accountable, and nullify confessions under torture. Yet impunity for torture remains commonplace, with dozens of complaints regarding torture and other ill-treatment filed under the 2017 Anti-Torture Law rarely reaching court and most closed without an effective investigation. It is time for this to stop.” Said Heba Morayef.

Background

Lebanon ratified the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and its Optional Protocol in 2000 and 2008 respectively. In compliance with its obligations under the CAT, Lebanon passed an anti-torture law in 2017, which makes torture a criminal offence.

Under international human rights law, military personnel should be tried before military courts only for breaches of military discipline. Under the Lebanese anti-torture law, the power to prosecute, investigate and try is granted exclusively to ordinary civilian courts. Also, the prohibition of torture applies regardless of the nature of the alleged crime.

**Correction** Security officers arrested Abdel-Saud from his home in Beirut on 30 August, not 31 August.