Hundreds of Syrians arbitrarily detained and tortured in Lebanon, Amnesty International says

Refugees accused of terrorism face jail and torture on mostly 'trumped-up charges', the report said

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 23, 2012, a Syrian man shows marks of torture on his back, after he was released by regime forces, in the Bustan Pasha neighbourhood of Syria's northern city of Aleppo.  / AFP / JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN
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Hundreds of Syrian refugees including children have been arbitrarily detained and tortured by Lebanese security forces for years, Amnesty International said.

They are often arrested and beaten on “trumped-up terror-related charges” the group said in its latest report based on the testimonials of 26 people and their lawyers.

Around 1.5 million Syrians sought refuge in neighbouring Lebanon since the Syrian conflict started 10 years ago but xenophobic rhetoric from the regime's allies in Beirut has fuelled prejudice and violence against them.

“Since 2011 hundreds of Syrian refugees, have been detained in Lebanon, often arbitrarily on trumped-up terror-related charges, or at times in relation to their membership of armed groups,” the report said.

Lebanese authorities have cracked down on Syrians for terrorism offences since 2014, when ISIS was at its height in Syria and militants attempted to overtake the Lebanese border town of Arsal. The targeting of Syrian refugees, however, is not limited to alleged terrorism offences but appears to extend to supposed opponents of the Syrian regime in Lebanon, the report found.

In Lebanon, people arrested on terrorism charges can be held in pre-trial detention indefinitely.

Majed has been awaiting trial for five years on terrorism charges he said were fabricated against him by an informant working for Lebanese security forces, who accused him of fighting alongside militants on the Lebanese border.

"Someone filed a report about me, saying that I fought in Arsal. I don’t know him personally, but after a while I found out that he was a Syrian informant", he said in the report.

Iran-backed Hezbollah has supported the regime of President Bashar Al Assad in Syria since the early days of the war. Along with Russian and Iranian forces, the Lebanese group has propped up the Syrian government, helping it regain most of the country’s territory.

Syrian refugees interviewed by Amnesty International were not notified of the reason for their arrest and did not have access to a lawyer or to their family when they were first detained.

The torture methods used in Syrian prisons were also used against those detained in Lebanon, the report has found. These include hanging detainees by the wrists for hours and strapping them on a foldable board.

“Lebanese security officials seemed to consider opposition to the Syrian government same as terrorism,” the refugees told Amnesty.

Security personnel accused Syrian refugees of either taking part in the battle of Arsal against the army or fighting alongside rebel forces against the Syrian government, the report said.

Four nurses and journalists said they were accused of being terrorists for treating wounded people during battles that erupted in Lebanon or for taking footage of fighting in Syria.

Maher, a 40-year-old Syrian teacher, said he was detained for four months in an undisclosed location in Lebanon for allegedly supporting the Syrian revolution.

“One security agent told me: ‘You’re a terrorist. What made you rise against President Bashar Al Assad?’ While they were beating me, they said: ‘Your God is Bashar Al Assad’,” he said.

Of the 26 Syrian refugees who testified about their detention, only one did not face torture yet there was no investigation into allegations against him.

Lebanese lawyer Mohamed Sablouh had previously told The National that the country's 2017 anti-torture law remains "ink on paper," and has never been applied.

Lebanese authorities displayed a “cruel and discriminatory treatment of Syrian refugees”, Marie Forestier, a researcher on Refugee and Migrants Rights at Amnesty International said.

“At every stage, from arrest through to interrogation, detention and prosecution in unfair trials, the Lebanese authorities have utterly disregarded international human rights law,” she said.