Home > English, Press Articles > Two inmates killed in Roumieh raids: Relatives of detainees clash with riot police outside Lebanon’s notorious prison

Two inmates killed in Roumieh raids: Relatives of detainees clash with riot police outside Lebanon’s notorious prison

By Patrick Galey
Daily Star staff
Thursday, April 07, 2011

Two inmates killed in Roumieh raids

ROUMIEH: Two inmates died in Lebanon’s largest prison Wednesday after overnight raids by security forces secured the release of guards held by prisoners rioting for better conditions.

Relatives of detainees at Roumieh prison clashed with riot police outside the complex, hurling rocks and glass bottles and wounding several protesters and Internal Security Forces officers.

“In order to avoid shedding the blood of inmates, the Lebanese Army Command and the ISF decided to put an end to the riots [inside the prison] and restore natural order,” an ISF statement said.

A well-placed security source told The Daily Star that the two deceased inmates had died accidentally. Prisoner Roy Azar, 40, was allegedly killed after picking up a stun grenade hurled by security forces, which exploded in his grasp. Jamil Abu Anni, 28, was found dead in his cell after reportedly suffering a heart attack.

The raid followed a fourth day of rioting by some of Roumieh’s 3,700 inmates, who demand their right to trial and object to the jail’s chronic overcrowding. A political source said that the mutiny was politically coordinated and designed to make the Interior Ministry and ISF appear weak.

At least 14 detainees were wounded in the raid, which saw security forces liberate three prison guards, held overnight by prisoners anxious to see their incarceration conditions improved. A further two prisoners were taken to hospital after mutilating themselves late Wednesday in protest against newly installed cellphone signal blockers around the complex.

An ISF statement said security forces had not used live ammunition during the operation. It added that five ISF officers were wounded in the raid after prisoners escaped their cells and brandished Molotov cocktails and sharp instruments.

Human rights activist Ali Akil Khalil, who was mediating between prisoners and security forces, said that the addition of extra police and Army personnel around Roumieh was raising tension. “These families want to know about their husbands and children. We are trying to do something and at least now we have some names [of the wounded],” he told The Daily Star.

“We still have people inside saying that [security forces] are beating them. I am not sure about today, but yesterday, some of them have been beaten up. We are trying to take in food and medicine for them. We have been trying for three days to get information and we have asked families not to attack police.”

The security source confirmed nine protesters and five ISF members had been wounded in Wednesday’s clashes outside the prison. One young woman was injured after a rock intended for the police barricade struck her in the back of the head.

Scores of protesters blocked the main road outside the prison and bombarded an armored police line with projectiles, shouting anti-security forces slogans and calling for information on their loved ones.

A man who said he was the uncle of Abu Anni emerged clutching his nephew’s identification card and a letter informing of his death. “There is no government, there is no security,” he screamed. “Go inside and see. They are beating prisoners.”

At around 4 p.m. a Red Cross ambulance arrived at the gates of the prison and entered the complex but could not be seen leaving.

Nour Sabra, 23, tried to get information about his father, who is a prisoner at Roumieh and suffers from stomach cancer. Sabra said he hadn’t heard any news from inside the facility in several days. “There is no information,” he said. “When we last spoke, my father asked for water and food. He can smell the smoke that is coming from the other cells. We want our families to come out of Roumieh. This is supposed to be a democratic country and [authorities] have to listen to us but they will not. This is making families more worried. I can’t see how this will end.”

Caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri met with caretaker Justice and Interior ministers Ibrahim Najjar and Ziyad Baroud respectively as well as judicial officials Wednesday before unveiling plans to improve conditions in Roumieh and prisons across Lebanon.

“The participants asserted that the issue of the prisons concerns all the government and all ministries, and the security of prisons is a red line that cannot be bypassed,” a statement from the meeting said.

Officials agreed several measures, including the assignment of the Higher Relief Committee to renovate Roumieh, as well as the installment of surveillance cameras and cell phone jamming systems in the complex. In addition, the meeting agreed to establish a courtroom close to Roumieh in order to accelerate trials of the estimated 3,000 inmates who are yet to be tried for their alleged crimes.

The security source said that visitors with permits would be allowed to visit Roumieh starting Friday. All packages and belongings of visitors would be screened upon entry, the source added.

Father Marwan Ghanem, who was helping mediation efforts, told The Daily Star that a hunger strike was being considered by prisoners, as protests from Roumieh relatives spread across the country.

Demonstrators in Baalbek blocked the town’s eastern and northern entrances and protests broke out along the Shtoura-Taalbaya highway, the state-run National News Agency reported. Army units were scrambled to break up altercations in several locations.

Dozens gathered in Downtown Beirut to protest the poor treatment of prisoners in Lebanon, waving banners reading: “Release them.” Khalil read out a series of demands from Roumieh inmates but claimed the requests had not reached Speaker Nabih Berri, the intended target. Berri said he had transferred demands to the relevant authorities.

A woman who declined to be identified said she feared her husband, an inmate at Roumieh, was among the dead. “My husband has been in prison for two-and-a-half years without trial,” she said, vowing to protest outside Roumieh until prisoners’ demands were met. – With additional reporting by Cristoph Scheuermann

Most of Lebanon’s inmates awaiting trial

BEIRUT: Following deadly riots at Roumieh, the country’s largest prison, Lebanon’s penal system has been thrust to the forefront of political debate. Caretaker Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar disclosed that of the 5,511 individuals spread across Lebanon’s 23 prisons, just 1,655 (30 percent) have been convicted of a crime. Of Roumieh’s estimated 3,700 detainees, 721 have been convicted. In addition, there are 222 foreign inmates in the prison who have served their sentences but remain incarcerated. – The Daily Star

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