No law for detained Palestinians

BEIRUT (IPS) - Palestinian refugee Youssef Shaaban was released from prison early this month — after serving 16 years in a Lebanese prison for a crime he did not commit.

Shaaban was convicted by Lebanon’s Justice Council in October 1994 on charge of shooting and killing the first secretary of the Jordanian embassy, Naeb Imran Matiyeh. Eight years after the sentencing of Shaaban, a Jordanian court convicted two Jordanians for the same crime. The Jordanian prosecution made no reference to Shaaban’s alleged role in the assassination.

In 2007, the UN working group on arbitrary detention declared Shaaban’s continuing detention to be baseless. But Shaaban was denied the right to appeal. A Lebanese court rejected the sentence administered in Jordan on the pretext that it was dispensed by a foreign entity. He was released this year after being granted special pardon by President Michel Suleiman.

Shaaban told IPS he was tortured in jail. The torture methods included the “metal chair,” where he was forced to sit on a metal chair that put pressure on the spine. Other forms of torture were suspension by his feet, electric shocks, and denial of sleep.

Several Palestinian refugees have been detained for years without prosecution.

“My son Kassem was arrested in the wake of the Nahr al-Bared war between the Lebanese army and the Fatah al-Islam terrorist group in 2007,” says Dr. Lutfi Hajj Ahmad, member now of the Committee for the Parents of Nahr al-Bared Detainees. “He was 15 at the time.”

Hajj Ahmad was injured early during the fighting and had to leave the camp, while his family stayed on. “The day they were asked to leave by the army, my son went to look for water; he was left behind.” Kassem was injured in the fighting, and later arrested along with other members of Fatah al-Islam. He was released this month, says Dr. Lutfi.

“My son was soaked in gasoline, and then they threatened to set him on fire,” says Hajj Ahmad.

Jihad Kadi was arrested four months ago in the Beddawi refugee camp in north Lebanon. His brother Adnan says Jihad was accused of “giving aid to injured Fatah al-Islam fighters in 2007, two years after the end of the conflict.”

A mother of five living in Nahr al-Bared says her teenage son was arrested in 2007. “He has not been charged with any crime for over two years. I visit him every week in Roumieh; the trip is quite costly for me. We lost everything we had in the [2007] war. I now have to beg here and there for the weekly pittance that allows me to visit my son.”

Hajj Ahmad says that some 30 people arrested during the 2007 war have not been prosecuted. A government source says that around 75 Palestinians were arrested on suspicion of being connected to Fatah al-Islam.

Article 108 of the penal code, which legislates detention periods, does not place a limit when it comes to crimes against the state’s security, says lawyer Paul Morcos. This section of the law was used against four Lebanese generals (Mustafa Hamdan, former head of the presidential guard; Jamil al-Sayyed, security services director; Ali al-Hajj, domestic security chief; and Raymond Azar, military intelligence chief) accused of conspiring in the 2005 killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

“While the text does not stipulate a maximum time period, the rule of law supposes a reasonable amount of time — one that takes into account the gravity of the offense and the possible repercussions of releasing the person accused of the crime,” says Morcos.

Hajj Ahmad says Palestinians have no access to Lebanese parliamentarians who often exert pressure on the government when a citizen is detained for a long period.

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