4 min read

In a rare step, 5 Lebanese security officers indicted in Syrian refugee’s torture death

The lawyer representing the family of Bashar Al-saud, a Syrian refugee allegedly tortured to death by Lebanese State Security officers in August, called the indictment a “bold and historic” decision.

8 December 2022

BEIRUT – In a historic move, a Lebanese military judge has indicted five security officers on torture charges following the death in custody of Syrian refugee Bashar Abdul Saud this past August.

The five State Security officers were arrested on September 2 and indicted by Military Investigative Judge Najat Abou Chakra on November 29, but the decision was only made public on Sunday, Amnesty International said in a press release. 

Bashar, 30,  was detained in Beirut’s Shatila refugee camp by the local Palestinian security apparatus and handed over to State Security. Four days later, his wife Hamda al-Said received a call telling her to come collect his lifeless body. 

Lebanese authorities initially said Bashar suffered a heart attack in custody following his arrest, but images posted of his body online and a video provided to Syria Direct by the family’s lawyer showed severe bruises and cuts covering his entire body.  

In the past decade, Lebanon has seen five cases—known to the public—of deaths in custody following suspected torture in Lebanon. Bashar Abdul Saud is the sixth.  

The indictment of State Security officers for their role in Bashar’s death could mark a meaningful step towards accountability in Lebanon. “The judge was bold and this is a very important step to fight the crime of torture, it’s the first real investigation in a torture case,” said Mohammed Sablouh, a lawyer specialized in torture cases who is representing Bashar’s family.  

Sablouh noted what he called a “scandal” in the ruling of the indicted officers acknowledging the use of “torture [in] the major crimes—drugs and terrorism” with the knowledge of their commander.

“The fact that Lebanon is finally taking a step towards implementing its anti-torture law is an encouraging development that offers a ray of hope to Bashar [Abdul] Saud’s family and other victims,” Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa said in a press statement about the case.

Lebanon was the first country in Middle East and North Africa to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture in 2000. In 2017, it also passed Anti-Torture Law 65, criminalizing its use and establishing jail sentences for perpetrators.

But despite several reports documenting the ongoing use of torture by Lebanese security branches to obtain confessions, to date no security official has been punished under the 2017 Anti Torture Law. Dozens of complaints citing the anti-torture law “remain uninvestigated,” Majzoub said.

Read more: Syrians tortured in Lebanese detention centers: A tale of impunity

While the late November indictment is a rare step towards accountability for torture in Lebanon, Chakra’s ruling held that military courts have jurisdiction over torture allegations, contradicting both the 2017 Anti Torture Law and Article 15 of the Criminal Procedure Code. “The Lebanese authorities must now transfer this case from the inherently unfair military courts to the ordinary criminal courts,” Majzoub said in the statement.

Military courts are less transparent than regular courts. Sblouh noted that as the plaintiffs’ lawyer, he has not been allowed to follow up on the investigation “with transparency.” For instance, his petition to get forensic results from the medical examiner was rejected. “A military court is trying military personnel…there’s no transparency nor justice there,” he said. 

For Hamda al-Said, Bashar’s widow, an indictment or even a conviction does little to lessen her pain. “I heard the news about the charges or detention in the media,” she said, “but…put yourself in my place, someone takes your husband without any guilt, they kill him, and leave his children orphans, how will you feel?”

Read more: ‘We want accountability’: Family of Syrian refugee tortured to death in Lebanon fight for justice

Hamda, 29,  still lives with her three children in the one-room home in Shatila she shared with her husband before his death. Even then, the family struggled to make ends meet. Now, she is on her own  with her three children—a seven year old, a nine year old and a four-month-old baby. While the fight for accountability takes a step forward, she—like many Syrian refugees—is grappling with a daily struggle to survive in Lebanon.

She recently lost cash assistance from the UN Refugee Agency, which—along with the World Food Program—is cutting support for an undetermined number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon due to budget constraints. 

“The UNHCR used to give me 1 million LBP [25$ at the parallel market rate] per month, but last month they stopped giving me that help,” she said. She used that money to buy diapers and baby formula. “I can’t afford to buy milk for the baby, so now I fill the bottle with water,” she said.


Share this article