Lebanon: Ziad Itani’s litmus test in authorities’ intent to address torture
One year after Lebanese actor Ziad Itani was released from detention, he is no closer to getting justice for the appalling torture he was subjected to in prison, Amnesty International said today.
On 13 March 2018 a military court acquitted Ziad Itani of charges of spying for Israel and released him. He had spent three and a half months in detention, on the basis of trumped-up charges. During the trial, Itani reported being held in solitary confinement, subjected to torture and other ill-treatment while in detention, and denied access to legal counsel. The Military court failed to act on these reports.
In mid-November 2018, Itani filed a civil lawsuit against officers and civilian assistants, but the State Prosecutor referred the case to the Military Prosecutor, even though both international and domestic law would require such reports to be investigated within the civilian criminal justice system.
“A year after his release Ziad Itani still bears the physical and psychological scars of the torture he experienced in detention. He was wronged the first time when he was arrested and detained; the second time when he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, and now he is being wronged again by the authorities’ failure to ensure accountability for the torture he continues to suffer from,” said Sahar Mandour, Amnesty International’s Lebanon Researcher.
“The authorities have recently taken steps to align Lebanon with its international obligations, namely by ratifying the anti-torture law and a just last week, by appointing the members of the National Preventive Mechanism. Ziad Itani’s case is a real litmus test of their intent to implement the law and meaningfully address torture.”
On 23 November 2017, the General Directorate of State Security, a security institution that reports directly to the President and Prime Minister, arrested Ziad Itani on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel. He was given no access to a lawyer. When he appeared before the Military Court judge, he reported that State Security officers in uniform and in civilian clothing beat him with electric cables, tied his body in a stress position using an iron chain, hung him by his wrists for hours, kicked and punched him in the face and threatened to rape him and his daughter.
Ziad Itani alleges that officers even forced a pen into his hand and made him sign a confession while he was lying on the floor unable to stand after a long torture session. He also described how officers brought to the interrogation room two of his family’s neighbours who insulted and spat on him, and threatened to harm his family and burn their house. He said officers also blackmailed him into confessing, in exchange for protecting his family.
After his release, his hands were constantly shaking, he was constantly agitated and emotionally unstable. Amnesty International reviewed medical records relating to the damage done to his teeth and his wrists.
On 25 January 2019 the Military Court opened its investigation into the fabrication of evidence that led to Itani’s arrest; however there has been no progress made into the investigations into the torture and other ill-treatment.
Under the Lebanese anti-torture law, the reports of torture should have been transferred immediately to a civil court and investigated within 48 hours.
Despite it being largely in line with international standards, Amnesty International had raised its concern about the fact that the law did not explicitly bar the Military Court from investigating reports of torture.
“The Lebanese authorities must ensure that Ziad Itani’s torture is immediately investigated by a civilian court in a prompt and effective manner and ensure that perpetrators are held to account. It is only through implementation that they will signal a genuine intent to address torture in the country,” said Sahar Mandour.
Last week, the Lebanese government approved the appointment of five members of the National Prevention Mechanism against torture and other ill-treatment. Under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, both of which have been ratified by Lebanon, this mechanism is tasked with visiting all places of detention with a view to recommending measures to prevent torture and other ill-treatment.