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My name is Jihaad Sleimaan. I was in charge of the Security of Dr. Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces. I would like to speak about the conditions of my incarceration in the Ministry of Defense in Lebanon.
On the 28th of March 1994, we were besieged in Ghodras (the headquarters of the L.F.). Whilst I was leaving the area, I was arrested by the Lebanese Army. They gave my name on the wireless then a group arrived, took hold of me and covered my head with my jacket. I was thrown inside the Jeep and taken to the Ministry of Defense. There was no arrest warrant issued. On the way I was beaten up violently and my covered head was being kicked repeatedly by the soldiers. When we arrived to destination a soldier took hold of me whilst being blindfolded and ordered me to run rapidly with him whilst guiding me. I smashed head on onto a wall and collapsed onto the ground in the midst of laughter from soldiers who did not know my name. I was beaten with the base of rifles until blood came out of my hand. Four to five hours later and whilst I was standing blindfolded, I was summoned for interrogation. After I have been relieved from the blindfold I saw an officer who told me: "You're now in the Intelligence Section of the Ministry of Defense, we do not want anything from you but you need to answer every question we ask, It is the only way you will enter decent and respected and you'll walk out clean and whole. Do not give us any reason to show you the other alternative..." They called onto a jailer (and here I would like to mention, after 90 days experience, that every jailer was nick-named ATTIEH). They shouted "Attieh Blindfold him, take him to the bathroom, give him a pad of about one thousand paper and tell him what to do". The jailer took me and threw me onto the floor of a bathroom, he handed me the pad and told me:" You've got to fill up all these papers and you've got to tell us all the sh… you’ ve done, all the atrocities that you've perpetuated in your life, all those you've assassinated, all the drugs that you've taken, the thefts, the women you raped, everything that your master Samir Geagea delegated you to perform: the killings, the bombings, the assassinations, etc.. and if you do not write, poor thing, you'll never know what will happen to you ". I took the pad and started detailing the period of my life with the Lebanese Forces starting from 1980 until the present date. I filled about 20 pages and handed them to the interrogator. About One minute passed before he shouted at me " what is this? Are you laughing at us? Don't you know that we are aware of all this? We want the atrocities that you've perpetuated, we want everything that your master Samir Geagea ordered you to execute: the people that you killed; tell us how you bombed the church , how you killed president René Moawwad, Dany Chamoun, how you assassinated Rachid Karameh, you have to tell us all that in details, I am going to give you one more chance; go and write again."
I took the pad again wondering what else to write especially when I was certain that we had absolutely nothing to do with all these crimes ... so I started thinking, I already told everything on the Lebanese Forces and on my role within it, about how the Lebanese Forces changed from a militia into an institution, about the rehabilitation programs, about the political school, about the military college and the graduation of Officers,about the social and charitable programs like the public transport, the twinning program, the medical and educational subsidies, I even told them about our structure and the who is who in our hierarchy, I detailed my training, the battles I fought, the duties I assumed in the Military Police and all the details of the period in Ghodras, the Guards stations, the different offices, even the details of Dr. Geagea's home.
I felt I had nothing more to say; I knew that the Lebanese Forces had nothing to do with all the killings, the bombings and the atrocities mentioned . I felt that a big scenario is being prepared and that they need to use me in order to arrest Dr. Geagea. I handed him the pad back. He said " Atieh, it seems that this animal is not understanding us. In any case he will be made to understand. Does he think himself more important than Fuad Malek ?" ; and here the long road of Calvary started.
Atieh took me and the torture began. I do not know where to start from... The first thing I remember was being tied unto a chair with my feet caught between the seat and the back and being hit on the sole of my feet with an electric wire until my feet were bleeding profusely. He then untied me and threw me into a cell and told me "I am giving you 10 minutes, think hard and tell us what you've been asked to execute recently by Dr. Samir Geagea. If we do not get what we want after those 10 minutes, you'll experience something you don't like".
The 10 minutes passed and I gave the same answer as before:" I was not asked to execute any mission that involved any illegal attack on security or order." The jailer took me and hanged me on the Ballanco (later in the conference our friend Fadi will explain to you the details of the Ballanco). It is indeed the most difficult tool of torture that I suffered and I suppose this is true also for all my friends who were detained in the Ministry. The interrogator told me:" you will not come down of there until you start speaking." Here I would like to stress that those interrogators arrest people and accuse them of all imaginable crimes; Their end target was to formulate a scenario and extort all its predetermined elements through degrees of torture little by little until the victim learns the lesson and follows neatly their plan... They started increasing the dose of torture and used a variety of methods. More than once they told me: " Speak and have pity on yourself because you have one of two alternatives: either ending up in the Lunatic asylum like Georges Alam or becoming paralysed and your relatives will visit you in the disabled centre of Beit Chabab".
I first thought that these threats were exaggerated but slowly the Calvary became more and more heavy. After the beatings I progressed unto the "Balanco" from there a new method called the " Magic Carpet " (Fadi will tell you more about it) was used at the end of which I was thrown into a cell with bilateral sprained and greatly swollen ankles. A person entered the cell and asked me if I was ill." Do you need a doctor? Do you lack anything?" I answered "my legs are hurting" he asked me why?, I did not dare and tell him that the reason was torture. I answered "because of a missed step" he replied "a missed step or the beatings on the soles?" I said "the torture Sir" he replied "it seems that you are not accustomed to tell the truth" he started shouting at me" if you do not tell them what they want, you are to suffer even more" he left and I knew that this was the Medical doctor!. The interrogator returned and told me" I will try and speak to you once more. We possess reliable information that you and few others from Ghodras know in details everything about Dr. Geagea. You have to tell us everything ". I replied, "I said everything I knew already". He called unto Attieh and ordered him to do a good job. Attieh knows very well that in order to please his master he will induce the most suffering imaginable. He asks me to undress completely and wash and then orders me to bend forward in order to introduce a bottle in my back passage. I started begging him and implored him not to; another one arrived and started whipping me; a third one started punching me. They brought the bottle and put it underneath me and ordered me to sit on it. I started shouting; here an interrogator came I begged him to give me time to speak. He took me and said "Son, we do not want anything from you personally, you are very small fish. We want the head of your leader; we want to crush him. Nobody is allowed to stand in our way. You will tell us how you bombed the Church" I answered, "But Sir, I know absolutely nothing on the whole question of the Church. I never took part or knew of anything that related to it or other illegal activities". He said, "I am trying to help you, why suffer all this torture because they are determined and they know that you took part in the bombing. Tell us or else it will be very difficult on you". I reiterated my innocence and the certainty that we had nothing to do with this. I detailed the meetings of Dr. Geagea in support of our innocence. He replied "In this case I wash my hands from you and let 'the butcher' take over".
The butcher is an interrogator. Others were nicknamed Hitler, Romel, etc. The butcher ordered to hang me onto the "Ballanco" once more. The Calvary started again. He left me hanging for about half an hour during which I was crying and shouting in pain. He came back and said "You have bombed the church isn't it?" I told him "As you wish Sir, anything you say Sir". and thus in a moment of weakness and pain I crumbled and accepted to say what they want me to say in order to avoid any further suffering. I felt that whatever I am obliged to do now I would refute later on in Court. From there on I agreed to everything: that I killed president Moawwad, (they were insisting at first to accuse me and the Lebanese forces then they dropped this accusation?); that we killed Mr. Karami (the prime Minister); They tortured me very much to confess that I killed Monsignor Khoreish only to realise later after my release that I was in Germany at the time of the killing. They accused me of killing Mr. Dany Chamoun. During all this time I was hearing the same methods of interrogation and the same questions being asked to other friends of mine who were responding that they knew absolutely nothing about it.
Returning to the Church bombing, and after collapsing into submission he was asking me "you brought the time fuses didn't you?" I answered, "yes sir". He said, "to whom did you give them". I answered, "I brought the time fuses and gave them to Joseph Rizk". Here the interrogator was seemingly satisfied that I was beginning to understand them so they started to increase the level of torture and intimidation he said, "Son this does not fit in well. It is not Joseph Rizk that took the time fuses it was Dr. Geagea wasn't it?" I answered, "Yes Samir Geagea Sir. I brought the time fuses and gave them to Samir Geagea." He replied, "Samir Geagea is not going to keep the time fuses in his office is he? He told you to give them to an engineering officer isn't it animal?
I felt that everything was being drawn according to a predetermined scenario at the end of which anybody will deduce that Dr. Geagea was behind the bombing of the Church. From there on I remember well that between each and every word I was being subjected to electrical shocks, I still carry on my body the evidence of all this.
I was always hoping to renounce all these fabricated confessions in front of the Judge of Interrogation or the Court within a fair system of Justice. So when they were threatening me about referral to the Judge I hoped, deep into my heart, to be able to escape from the hell I was living into and tell the whole truth. I was looking forward to be moved to a civil jail and then I will be able to consult with a lawyer. I should also stress that until this time I was prevented from receiving any visitor, family or lawyer.
On one occasion I gathered all my strength again , and whilst praying I decided to fight back. I waited to be seen by the Judge again and told him "all my depositions were made under duress. If you want the truth I do not have anything to do with all these bombings, assassinations or anything else". After this they took me again through the road to Calvary with more and more sophisticated torture.
During all the period from 28/03/94 until 16/04/1994, I was kept standing, deprived of food, water and sleep for a span of three to four days at a time. I was naked, blindfolded, my hands were tied behind my back whilst I was facing the wall with my legs widely spread apart. They used to walk on my toes, electrocute me at will and at times when I could take no more I used to collapse on the floor. I also experienced a weird feeling of detachment from my environment called in medical terms a Trance or Fugue. I imagined myself back in Ghodres assuming my usual responsibilities. They used here to hit me and kick me on the head. They used to come and wake me up with electric shocks. I know during one of those times I collapsed and was wounded on my head. It was a big, deep wound; they carried me, threw me back into my cell and left me to sleep for a long time. They woke me up and asked me to get dressed and try to make myself look smart. I thought my parents or somebody else was coming to see me at last. They took me to a room and removed my blindfold. I saw in front of me a man dressed in civil clothes. I knew him straight away he was the interrogation judge Joseph Freiha. I had seen him on TV, before my arrest, making declarations and accusing the Lebanese forces of the church bombing. He said to me: "Stand up and put your hands behind your back, son." I blessed myself and did as he asked. He looked at me and started shaking his head saying "If you see me in civil clothes, do not think you can take any advantage." "No Sir, but this is a new and different environment. It is only for this reason that I blessed myself" I replied. Then he started the interrogation, I quickly realised that nothing had changed. From the room of Judge Freiha you could still hear the screaming and crying from the other rooms, as before, it was so loud on one occasion that the Judge had to ask the soldiers in the room to go and calm it down so that we could hear each other. Despite all this, I was still hoping the judge was going to move me into a civil jail and allow me to appoint a lawyer for myself or release me because I was innocent. I was grabbing at straws. All of a sudden, after a silence, the screaming recommenced from the next room. I recognised the voice of my friend Fawzi Al Rassi. I could hear Fawzi saying " I had nothing to do with the story of Dany Chamoun, I know nothing about it". I heard another voice ordering: "Attieh, hang him on the Ballanco, I heard a noise which sounded like they were hanging someone on the Balanco. I could hear from the screams that they were electrocuting him; I heard another one say "Get the acid, and dip his feet in little by little". I could hear Fawzi screaming in terror, "NO, NO," then suddenly his voice stopped . I heard lots of movements but I never heard his voice again. I didn't know then what happened but I found out after I have been released that he died on that day at their hands... When the judge had finished with me, they took me to the corridor and made me stand facing the wall. Someone gave me a sandwich; a man called "The big Master" the head of the Intelligence unit, the officer Jamil Sayed passed and saw me eating. (They used to call me Abou Hamam - The father of pigeons). He said, "who allowed him to eat or sleep before he tells the truth". I told him, "Sir I just told the judge all what I know". He replied, "What truth is that. The judge himself asked us to punish you. Now you will not sleep or eat..." One of the guards grabbed the sandwich from my hand and I know that for more than three days they kept me standing with my legs spread open without food or drink until I collapsed unconscious on the floor.
Because of the lack of food and sleep and because of the torture they realised I was beginning to break down. They devised a new method of torture whereby they made me stand, arms and feet apart, and scream "The Pigeons are Flying" and lower my arms screaming "The Pigeons are landing" thus the naming of Abou Hamam. This was repeated endlessly for days and nights. I lost my sense of time. Because I was dehydrated, my mouth was so dry at times that I could not speak, they responded by giving me electric shocks or punching or lashing me with the whip. They used to gather , seven or eight of them , to watch the show. The name Abou Hamam was given to me for seventy days at least in the Ministry of Defense. They treated me like a clown. When they began to allow me to sleep, one of them used to wake me up and told me I had an interrogation. He would blindfold me, cuff me and say to me "Fly fly bird...". They used to make me sing. I used to hear the "big master" and all his subjects laughing.
Because I was an officer in the headquarters of the Lebanese Forces, I knew most of the people that were arrested in this section i.e. around 70/80. Every time there was a new prisoner they would make me go into a room with them and say whatever they told me. They would ask me questions and make me repeat pre-prepared answers to demoralize the new prisoners. They would make me say that their wives or mothers were having affairs with X,Y,Z. They would ask the new prisoner "Do you know Jihad Sleiman, he would reply, "Yes he's an officer in Ghodras" (Headquarters of the Lebanese Forces). They would say "look what has happened to him. If you don't tell us what we want (meaning their prepared statement) the same thing will happen to you". The interrogator would then scream "Bring Abou Hamam". When the boys saw me they were afraid and demoralised and would begin telling stories thinking it would save them from the same torture. They would call me three or four times a day to play this game . I know this is what happened to the prisoners: Rafiq Saade, Kamil Karam, Girges El Khoury, Hanna Attiq and many others.
What I want to say now is very important. They were pushing me to admit my involvement in the bombing of the church and the assassination of Dany Chamoun and his family telling me I would be released if I said that. Because, according to them, I was very small fish and they didn't want me, they wanted (the head) my boss. I denied my involvement. One of the soldiers said "Sir, its ok, the animal in the other room just admitted his involvement in Chamoun's case." The investigator would turn to me and say, "Admit you've done the church and let's finish. Then you can go home. We know you're just a soldier following orders. We will bring your boss to the prison."
It was one month before I was allowed to see a lawyer and instruct him to defend me. Even then they did not allow him to talk to me. They asked him to obtain a permission from the interrogation judge before he saw me again. After a few days my interrogator said to me, "Abou Hamam, they are saying outside you are either dead or crazy and now they are sending one of your religious people in black, you call him what, a priest or a bishop? to ask about you. Now you are going to meet him. You will tell him everything is OK. and there is no torture whatsoever. If you don't we will kill you when he has gone. You tell him you're here for questioning because the party you belong to is involved in serious allegations". They took me up I saw the Bishop, Bechara Al-Rahi, sitting between the two judges, Freiha and Hounein, and a few other people. The judges were telling him, "Don't worry Father we're the protectors of the Christians and the boys are OK in here." I had to tell the Bishop that everything was OK. The Bishop told me he was going to tell this to the press. When we had finished they sent for me. The interrogator said "Good you've done well. Not like this animal Hanna Atiq who said things he shouldn't have." It comes to my mind now that my old friend Hanna Attiq ended up a few days later in hospital in a coma for 10 days.
After that event they were easier with me, but I could always hear my friends screaming "I don't know", this is the truth" or "Mother Mary, Jesus please save us." I could hear the interrogator saying to them "Forget it, neither Jesus nor Mary are going to help you here. Screaming won't help. Here you have to say "Yes Sir", and tell us about the involvement of Samir Geagea".
Every time I heard the screams I couldn't eat or sleep. I stayed there for 90 days hoping that they would move me to a civil prison. Every time I heard someone scream when he was on the Ballanco or being electrocuted or I heard the squeak of a door I would feel a terrible pain in my stomach, I would shiver. I felt at the edge of utter despair trying to shut out the sounds of the screams. Even so I could hear every one of them, every electric shock.
I will describe this prison for you. There is a long corridor with 16 rooms full of prisoners. In the corridor were 50 prisoners cuffed, blindfolded and lying on the floor. Everyone could hear all the interrogations, the torture, and the screams.
Finally it is really terrible that they are continuing with court cases built on statements signed by us under duress.
After torture we were forced to sign these statement, blindfolded, by a man called al Mukhtar (the mayor). The same man used to stand under the Ballanco with a piece of paper; he would say "sign this paper and go home or stay on the Balenko". The same man used to hand those papers to the judge of interrogation. He belongs also to the Intelligence Services. The interrogators were on very good terms with Judges and I know the judges were fully aware of the methods of interrogation used to obtain "depositions". At the end I saw the faces of my interrogators and I recognised them as the same men present in the office of Judge Freiha during my first appearance there.
I feel terribly bitter at being tortured for 90 days in the Ministry of Defense, accused of bombing a Church I had defended with everything I have for 15 years, only to find that they wanted to put Dr. Geagea in jail. I would like to challenge the Lebanese Government, through the Media present today, that with adequate guarantees I am prepared to face and challenge every person who was mentioned in this press conference with all the facts that were detailed and bear witness to the truth.
Indeed I am not going to repeat what my colleague Jihad Sleiman has reported. Allow me to reveal to you how we were detained with Dr. Samir Geagea and the ordeals we have encountered. My name is Fadi Muhana, I am a Lebanese National born in Lebanon and I was appointed as the bodyguard of Dr. Geagea's wife, Mrs. Sethrida, for the period of three and a half years and my domain was only set on this protection.
During 21st of April, a Colonel in the Lebanese Army called "Salloum" came to arrest Dr. Geagea and drove him to the Ministry of Defense. Colonel "Salloum" has given his word of honour to keep Mrs. Sethrida's guards whom she already has for her protection, but he failed to keep his promise by appearing half an hour later and arresting everyone in "Ghadres", throwing them inside a military truck like animals regardless of any sense of humanity. Elderly people, women and men were abducted and they stole everything that they could lay their hands upon. All the arrests and thefts took place without any legal basis or any warrants of arrests. Despite all this the judges are reluctant to address this issue and have stated that all has been well.
I want to stress that the Ministry of Defense is not a prison by anybody's standard. It is more a torture centre falling directly under the control of the Intelligence Services. In reality it is a butchery place. This is the most suitable description:
Adding to our extremely painful physical torture, they utilised psychological torment by making up sexual stories about our families. They wanted to break us psychologically. They made us see Dr. Geagea blindfolded, handcuffed and standing by the wall, legs apart and told us: "Go and tell others what you have witnessed, your cause is over, tell us everything you know, save yourself now that your leader is finished".
I was detained, tortured and released without any reason nor any legal justification or formality. Upon my release I was threatened not to be involved in politics, social activities, or even clubs nor to take part in any normal gathering where it involves friends or otherwise they would capture me again. In addition, I had to be ready to be called in at any time they wish, even during midnight and the early hours of the morning and had to unwillingly be driven to the Ministry of Defense. Therefore, it took me a great deal of thoughts and determination to come to the decision of leaving my beloved country denied of essential freedom and searching for Human Rights, security and peace.
The Lebanese Forces Party
The director of UNESCO's regional office in Beirut, Victor Billeh, in an interview with the Lebanese newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour on September 20, 1999 said: “Peace does not entail solely the eradication of hostilities but it also involves preaching world human values such as the respect of human rights, cultural and religious diversity, equality and social and democratic justice”.
Such peace Lebanon did not discover yet after the war ended in 1990. Every year, the country, which suffered the devastation of war, still suffers today and on the hands of its own government.
The Report by the United Nations Development Program issued in year 2000 and titled “Human Rights and Development”, ranked Lebanon 82nd amongst nations while in year 1999 it was ranked 69th. The decline in Human Rights respect and in preservation of justice is due to Syrian hegemony over Lebanon and the attempts by the Lebanese Authorities to tame the opposition and curb freedoms.
The following is Lebanon’s record on Human Rights for year 2000:
Part 1: Civil Liberties
A - FREEDOM OF PRESS AND OF OPINION
Despite the many proclamations by the Lebanese authorities on the Freedom of Press as being a divine right and despite their assurances that they will take all measures to ensure its preservation, the fact remains that year 2000 witnessed many violations. Journalists practiced self-censorship, their phones were tapped and they continuously receive “advices” not to tackle or discuss certain issues.
Publications or even social and cultural events, which displayed any notion opposing Syrian Military Presence in Lebanon or handled an issue considered off limits by the Lebanese Government, were subject to censorship.
Following are some examples of recorded violations:
Freedom of expression was on attack in year 2000. The following are some examples:
B - THE PRISON SYSTEM
In July 2000, a delegation from “International Penal Reform”, a London based organization concerned with monitoring and reforming prison systems in more than 50 countries worldwide, took a tour of prisons in Lebanon. The delegation noted the poor prison conditions and how they do not meet international minimum standards.
The following is a close-up of the prison conditions in Lebanon:
DETENTION CENTERS AND INTERROGATION
There are several detention centers in Lebanon, the chief one is at the Ministry of Defense in Yarzeh. Others are located in different cities and mainly in Army facilities such as the one in Ablah-Bekaa, two in the Military Police centers in Kfarshima and Sin-El-Feel and one is the Oberly center in Keserouan.
Detainees at these centers are subject to physical and psychological torture during interrogation. In the year 2000, three members of the South Lebanese Army (SLA) died in custody as a result of torture and lack of medical attention:
Despite the physical evidence of torture on the bodies of the victims, the government rushed into closing the files and prohibited lawyers from further questioning or challenging the medical examiner’s report.
Furthermore, the accused is subject to great humiliation and the Lebanese law concerning the rights of the accused is often violated. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states in Article 11 section 1 “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence”. Though the Lebanese Law subscribes to this declaration, the justice system often practices the opposite. The accused is guilty until proven innocent and upon detention, is defamed in the media and public opinion before he/she is proven guilty in a court of law.
In addition, the Lebanese Authorities do not respect nor comply with the law as to the detention period not exceeding 24 hours, renewable only once by the State Prosecutor. The law also provides for the defense lawyer be present during interrogation by the Judicial Police, yet, this right is often denied.
C - ARBITRARY ARRESTS, DETENTION AND THE FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY AND PROTESTS
Since 1991, the number of people detained or subpoenaed has approached 15,000 citizens belonging to opposition groups such as students, trade unions, journalists, human rights activists and members of political parties such as the Lebanese Forces Party and the Free National Current (FNC), loyal to General Michel Aoun.
In September 2000, The Committee for Public Freedoms and Human Rights, a branch of the Lebanese Lawyers’ Union, condemned the appalling infringements on the Lebanese constitution and the severe breaching of common laws and legal procedures that accompany the arrests and detainment of citizens for lengthy periods of time. Furthermore, it condemned the mistreatment of detainees especially the violent beatings, insults and forceful signing of affidavits stating they would abstain from any future political activities. The Committee also pointed out that house raids conducted by security forces in broad daylight and in the middle of the night, which terrorized the inhabitants of these homes, are illegal because of the absence of search or arrest warrants.
Sources from the Security Forces claimed that these activities are very well within the framework of their responsibilities and supported by the law despite the provisions of the Lebanese law pertaining to these procedures.
Despite the government’s claim that freedom is widely practiced, the year 2000 witnessed a large scale of arbitrary arrests and infringement on freedom of assembly:
D - DETAINEES IN ISRAELI AND SYRIAN PRISONS
After the withdrawal of the Israeli Forces from Lebanon in May 2000, many Lebanese detainees were set free from the Khiam Prison and some Lebanese detainees remained in other Israeli prisons distributed as follows: 8 in Nafha Prison, 2 in Ashmort Prison, 2 in Askalan Prison, 2 in Sarafand Prison, and one in Shatta Prison.
There exist other prisoners whose whereabouts are unknown while information is available about few other prisoners who were released but decided not to return to Lebanon.
In September 2000, the Syrian authorities released 54 detainees from its prisons: 47 Lebanese, 6 Palestinians, and 1 Egyptian.
Both the Lebanese and Syrian authorities insisted that no more Lebanese are detained in Syrian jails. An outcry from the families led to Syria admitting that it still has in its custody 95 Lebanese nationals sentenced to jail for committing non political crimes in Syria. However, the list they submitted did not include the names of those who are visited on regular basis by their families nor those known to be held in Syrian jails. Of those are: George Shlaweet (Lebanese Forces), Tony Tamer, Samir Hajj and Boutros Khawand (Lebanese Kataeb), and Fouad Khouri, Najib Germani, Rashid Hosn, Abdullah Shehade, Bassam Semaan, Redwan Yaseen, Yousef Semaan. Furthermore, the following Lebanese Army soldiers are still in Syrian custody, Johnny Naseef, Marwan Zoghby, Michael Hasbany, Joseph Azar, sergeant Elie Saad Hadad, corporal Elia Yousef Aoun and Jihad George Eid.
E - PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE, Dr. Samir Geagea.
April 27, 2000 marked the 6th anniversary of the imprisonment of Dr. Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces Party. Despite the General Amnesty Law applied to crimes committed during the war and provided by the Taef Agreement, Dr. Geagea was subjected to a series of trials in which he was given death sentences commuted to life in prison with hard labor. The General Amnesty Law has several loopholes, which allowed the government to use it as a political tool against the opposition. War crimes shall be pardoned under this law except those turned over to the Judicial Council. This provision discriminates between victims and renders people unequal in the eyes of the law. This same provision was used to prosecute Dr. Geagea after twice refusing to accept a Ministerial Position. Human Rights organizations deemed the trials unfair and claimed they fell below the international fair trial minimum standards. Testimonies upon which judges relied to rule in those cases were extracted under duress and despite the fact that witnesses later recanted their testimonies and declared that they were forced to testify, the judgments against Dr. Geagea stood. It is to note that these rulings are final and not subject to appeal.
Since he was first incarcerated till today, he is kept in solitary confinement in a cell three stories underground in the Ministry of Defense jail. The cell is poorly ventilated and deprived from sunlight. Dr. Geagea suffered several health set backs especially from humidity and was hospitalized on several occasions. He is denied any connection with the outside world except short visits from his wife, parents and lawyers. Those visits are usually monitored and censored and do not extend beyond twenty minutes. Jail officials do not abide by court orders and shorten his visits with his wife and parents to a quarter of an hour instead of a half-hour on Tuesdays and to twenty minutes instead of an hour on Thursdays. When led out of his cell, he is blindfolded and his hands are shackled. His lawyers noticed some bruises on his face and were told that while blindfolded, sometimes he is led into hitting sharp objects or falling down on the stairs. Dr. Geagea rarely complains to his family or lawyers for fear they would worry about him. Despite the right he is given to a one-hour walk in the jail yard everyday, this right is often denied and without prior notice. His cell is often raided at night and wildly searched leaving the little he possesses broken and torn apart.
Lebanese Authorities claim that his solitary imprisonment is for his own protection while no attempts were made to improve his cell situation. He has lost a lot of weight and his family expressed a great concern for his health.
He is prohibited from discussing any political issues with his family or lawyers and denied access to political publications and media. When his lawyers drafted a proposed amnesty law, prison officials refused to allow him to discuss or review the proposal before submission.
In the year 2000, Dr. Geagea was not on trial for any cases, however, threats and insinuations were made that more alleged cases will be opened against him and the Lebanese Forces Party in the event that either raised any objections.
F - THE SITUATION IN SOUTH LEBANON
After Israel withdrew from South Lebanon in May 2000, armed militias, mainly Hizballah, took control of the area due to the refusal of the Lebanese Government to deploy its Army. Several incidents were recorded as a result of this security vacuum:
G - RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS
The year 2000 witnessed a resurgence of Muslim Fundamentalism, which caused the record for religious freedom to further plummet:
H - WIRETAPPING AND SURVEILLANCE
The right to privacy was severely breached when the Lebanese Parliament passed a law legalizing eavesdropping on the grounds that it safeguards national security, despite the protests of lawmakers and Human Rights activists. Eavesdropping is not only used to monitor people suspected of illegal activities but also to monitor personal phone calls, commercial and financial spying in the hopes of using the acquired information for political arm-twisting and blackmail.
PART 2: POLITICAL AND LEGAL RIGHTS
1 - THE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
The parliamentary elections for the year 2000, much like those held in 1992 and 1996, registered a lack of democratic means, human rights respect and legitimate representation, all essential factors for a fair election. The Lebanese Regime under Syrian supervision focused on two main strategies in order to yield the results they expect. Those two strategies are:
The election law, fully detailed in our 1999 yearly report for Human Rights, is not the only factor that tarnished the election results but there existed other gaps and irregularities that we have to discuss in more detail:
A - PRE-ELECTION FORGERY
Removal of opposing Candidates:
Rabih Kayrouz, the Christian Maronite candidate for Baalbak District was removed from Hizbollah coalition list after entering the race and was replaced by the Christian Maronite candidate Nader Sikkar, after the latter received assurances from General Ghazi Kenaan, the commander of the Syrian intelligence apparatus in Lebanon that pressure will be exerted on Hizbollah to include him. Nader Sikkar won the parliamentary seat for the Baalbak-Northern Bekaa district even though he is not a native resident of Bekaa but of a region North of Lebanon.
Similarly, Hussein Yatim, the Muslim Shiite Candidate and a member of Amal Movement, was removed from the Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s coalition list in Beirut District and replaced by Nasser Kandil, Muslim Shiite Candidate known for his close ties with the Syrian Intelligence Services in Beirut.
The Lebanese and Syrian Intelligence Services called upon mayors and demanded they provide a certain number of votes in their towns to loyal candidates. Some mayors testified to this fact.
The Unfair and Unequal Use of Media:
The media was not available to all Candidates equally, especially the official Government media which was exclusively used by Government Candidates.
Money and Election fees:
Rich candidates won the elections by spending millions to buy votes, taking advantage of high unemployment rates and rampant poverty.
Illegal Use of Public Funds:
Government Candidates used Government resources, services and taxpayer’s money to run their campaign. A prime example was the Minister of Interior, at the time, Michel Murr who forcefully enlisted the resources human and others of his ministry in the service of his election campaign in the Northern Metn district.
The Use and Misuse of Voting Cards:
The voting lists contain the names of all eligible voters, but only those possessing voting cards (issued recently by the Government) can actually vote. However, every Candidate had the list of names and was able to issue a voting card at the last minute and after the deadline to those who promised him/her the vote under the guise that they were replacements for lost cards.
Violating Voters Privacy:
Some of the candidates with government connections were able to obtain the sealed envelopes with voters’ ballots.
B - FORGERY DURING CASTING OF VOTES
C - FORGERY DURING COUNTING OF BALLOTS AND DECLARING THE RESULTS
In addition to the above-mentioned illegalities, there were some recorded incidents of assault on some candidates whose political agenda opposed the views of the government and Syria. Such as the incident of General Paul Fares who ran on an election platform, which advocated a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. His cousin and his driver were arrested and his daughters were threatened.
2 - THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides guidelines for proper judicial procedures, which preserve the dignity and the rights of those accused. The declaration clearly states that all people are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law (section 7) and everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal (section 10). Amendment (B) deals with equal civil and political rights in a court of law and fair and public proceedings by a specialized, independent and unbiased court according to the law (section 14, paragraph 1). According to the law (section 14, paragraph 5), every convicted person has the right to appeal the court’s verdict and the sentence to a higher court.
The Judicial System in Lebanon in the recent years stood in defiance of the above-mentioned law and of the Lebanese Constitution, which provides for an independent Judiciary. The following is a demonstration on how the courts are used as political tools for revenge in Lebanon:
A - THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL
The Judicial Council renders final judgments not subject to appeal. Cases turned for trial in this court require a decree from the Council of Ministers and upon the recommendation of the Minister of Justice. The decision deeming cases necessary to be tried before the Judicial Council, remains at the Cabinet’s discretion and cannot be contested before the State Council. The Examining Magistrate, who decides whether a case should be turned to the Judicial Council for trial and recommends it to the Cabinet, is appointed by the Minister of Justice, thus allowing for political manipulation. Citizens tried before the Judicial Council are robbed of their rights to present their cases in criminal courts and the chance to go before the cassation court for appeal.
B - MILITARY COURTS
The Lebanese legal system provides the Military Court, served by Military and Magistrate Judges, with cases involving military personnel and Military related matters. However, in the recent years, the Military Courts substituted the regular criminal and civil courts and handled almost all cases for trial. In April, eight students were sentenced in the Military Court for a period ranging from 15 days to 4 weeks for partaking in a demonstration against Syrian Military Presence in Lebanon.
In the past year alone, the Military Court handled the cases of over 3,000 members of the “South Lebanon Army” who voluntarily surrendered themselves to the Lebanese authorities and were charged with collaboration with Israel. These cases were processed with great disregard and lack of attention to legal rights and due process. The following are examples of these infringements:
C - THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH INTERFERES WITH THE JUDICIARY
The Lebanese Constitution provides for an Independent Judicial System, however in the last ten years, the Judiciary became subject to political manipulation and a tool in the hands of the Executive Branch. The following are some examples:
Lebanon, the cradle of democracy in the Middle East and the guardian of freedom, is on a down spiral. The more these practices are not condemned, the more the government is encouraged to adopt them and the more the Lebanese people find themselves obliged to seek refuge around the world.