06/09/2023, 13.21
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Violence, overcrowding, treatment denied: deaths in Lebanese prisons double

This is the finding of an Amnesty International report that looks at the period between 2018 and 2022. Middle East deputy director: "Drastic and urgent reform is needed, starting with prison decongestion." Facilities are at 323 percent of their capacity and 80 percent are on remand awaiting trial.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Maltreatment, lack of basic medical care and adequate resources, misconduct or negligence of prison staff, and overcrowding are some of the causes behind the (almost) doubling of prison deaths between 2018 and 2022.

This dramatic escalation is denounced in a report by the NGO Amnesty International and which goes hand in hand with the economic, social and institutional crisis into which the Land of the Cedars has plunged in recent years, with serious human rights violations.

"The sharp increase in the number of victims must ring as a wake-up call to the government" of Lebanon, whose prisons need "urgent and drastic reform" stresses Aya Majzoub, AI's deputy Middle East and North Africa director. 

The expert listed the need to "decongest" prisons as a priority, starting with the use of "alternative measures" to "preventive" detention. Another requirement is "additional" resources to ensure that prisoners can receive "adequate health care and have immediate access to emergency medical care."

"The economic crisis," warns Aya Majzoub, "cannot be an excuse for prison authorities to deny prisoners access to medication, burden prisoners' families with the cost of hospitalizations, or delay their transfer to hospitals.

Moreover the judiciary should "promptly and impartially investigate every death in custody. Any shortcomings and negligence on the part of the authorities must be addressed and, where appropriate, through prosecution of those responsible."

Amnesty International's investigation shows a link between rising deaths in Lebanese prisons and the economic crisis, underlying "deficiencies" in "adequate and timely" medical care of detainees, even in cases where "emergency treatment" is required.

Between September 2022 and April this year, the NGO surveyed 16 people, including former prisoners and family members of people who died in custody.

The brother of one prisoner reported his death occurred in Roumieh on August 21, 2022, after his health rapidly deteriorated. In spite of the serious condition, the prison pharmacist said he did not believe the pains and prison guards delayed his transfer to a hospital, although the family at the time of the events had provided all the money needed to support their relative's medical care. 

Another sore subject is prison overcrowding, which has been worsening in recent years in correspondence with the economic crisis. Facility occupancy is 323 percent higher than the maximum guaranteed capacity, and 80 percent of inmates are on remand awaiting trial.

The combination of overcrowding and dire detention conditions have led to the deteriorating health of the prison population. Meanwhile, in light of currency depreciation and skyrocketing inflation, resources to ensure health care have drastically decreased.

"The Interior Ministry's budget for providing health care to people in prison has decreased from US.3 million in 2019 to about US8,000 in 2022. As a result, prisons," the report concludes, "are not adequately staffed and prison pharmacies lack basic medicines such as painkillers and antibiotics.

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