Most of the Press in Lebanon Disregarded HRW Torture Report

Published: 2 August 2013

Country: Lebanon

lebanon hrw tortureMohammad is a victim of police abuse in Lebanon. “They took me to interrogation naked, poured cold water on me, tied me to a desk with a chain, and hung me in the farrouj position (a torture technique). They broke all my teeth and nose, and hit me with a gun until my shoulder was dislocated.

Police beat Mohammad until he confessed that he was a drug user.

Mohammad’s words did not find way into Lebanese journalists’ desks. His story, together with other 51 people’s, barely made it into the news when a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) brought them to light.

The report, “It’s part of the job”, disclosed that the Internal Security Forces (ISF) in Lebanese police stations systematically abuse detainees arrested with the accusation of being drug users, sex workers, or homosexual. HRW gathered evidence from 27 men and 25 women who have been tortured, harassed, and ill-treated over the last five years.

They don’t see us as human beings. They know that we are poor, that we probably don’t have families, and that no one asks about us. We’re easy to take advantage of,” said Soumaya, a sex worker who had been in pre-trial detention in Baabda prison for several months.

These groups are widely discriminated in Lebanon and police do nothing to hide their disdain of them. The least that can happen to detainees is being object of verbal abuse, degradation, and humiliation. But what wait for them are also beatings with fists, boots, or sticks, and other forms of torture such as food, water and medication deprivation. Nine of those interviewed by HRW reported being handcuffed in extremely uncomfortable positions for hours. Most of the women have been subjected “to some form of sexual violence or coercion, ranging from sexual assault to offering them “favors” […] in exchange for sex,” the report reveals.

Torture by the ISF is grounded in inadequate laws, a judicial system that puts too much emphasis on obtaining confessions during investigations, a rampant culture of impunity, and lack of proper oversight mechanisms. Still, Lebanese press has failed to address the report and the abuses.

A study analysis by the Media Diversity Institute’s partner, Maharat Foundation, shows that the accusations about the torture have been generally disregarded by Lebanese press. This is the result of the media monitoring of seven newspapers and five TV channels in the week that followed the publication of the report at the end of June 2013.

Maharat Media Observatory classified the coverage of the report for the space allotted, format (news report, comprehensive story, article, follow up story), tone (positive, negative, neutral) and diversity in opinions.

Among the seven broadcasters, only the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI) informed its viewers with a three-minute-long news piece that included written testimonies by victims and a quick commentary by the HRW Middle East deputy director.

The results of the online newspapers are slightly more encouraging, as all the selected outlets reported the story. However, though headlines and photos showing torture stressed how atrocious these violations are, “most of the published articles were in the form of press releases”.

Although sex work, homosexuality, and personal drug use in Lebanon are not allowed by law, torture to obtain confession is not. In front of the gravity of these actions, Lebanese press has not done enough in denouncing the violation of human rights in its country. Journalists did not make any effort to present a comprehensive coverage on the matter, contributing in keeping the lid on Mohammed’s story.