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Layal Al-Kayaje and the silence surrounding torture in Lebanon

October 2, 2015 at 9:02 am

Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report on the detention and torture of Palestinians resident in Lebanon. The Lebanese army released a statement on 22 September that Layal Al-Kayaje was arrested a day before, accused of lying about being raped and tortured by military intelligence officers during her detention in 2013. There were no specific legal charges against Kayaje from a court and her location is being kept a secret; neither her friends nor her family are able to contact her.

She was, apparently, arrested for posting a status on Facebook under a pseudonym in support of Ahmad Al-Assir during the clashes between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army on one side and Sunni militant groups on the other. The latter were opposed to Hezbollah’s strict control over southern Lebanon, and the Lebanese army’s support for the Shia militia, facilitating its illegitimate authority in the area. The Sunnis feel that they have been marginalised.

During her five day detention, she was allegedly raped and tortured. When she was released, she started to prepare a legal case against military intelligence and went to a doctor to be examined and provide evidence of her rape. However, the doctor, as well as her lawyers, refused to get involved in the case as they feared for their safety; they recommended her to keep quiet, as the consequences of pressing charges against the army could be serious.

Kayaje’s support for Assir was during his political infancy, when she, like many other Sunnis in southern Lebanon, believed that he was offering much-needed protection to the community in Saida from Hezbollah. “Assir was a shaikh who was defending all people, especially the Sunnis,” she said in an interview, when she broke her silence two years after the attack. It started as a peaceful movement, but when Assir’s calls were not answered, the movement took a wrong turn and it became more violent. At the beginning, I supported Assir because I believed that he was doing the right things; that’s when many people started to be against me.”

She claims that her arrest was actually due to a confrontation with the son of a Lebanese military intelligence official. He knew she supported Assir, who insulted his father publicly, so he went to her workplace in a drunken state and started to insult her. She then received threats from a Hezbollah-affiliated family and was arrested; it wasn’t due to the Facebook posting. She ensured that she had no affiliation to Assir: “I only supported him theoretically and had nothing to do with the activities he used to plan. The only contact I had with some of Assir’s people was in my shop.”

There was no evidence of her being involved militarily with Assir, although such accusations were made against her. “When they arrested me, they searched my phone and did not find anything related to Assir. They tried to make me confess to the charges but I didn’t.” Like many Sunnis in southern Lebanon, her support for Assir only came out of frustration at being marginalised by Hezbollah. Like Kayaje, many believed firmly that he was the only way out.

Speaking out in the local media about her ordeal has led her to re-arrest. With nobody being able to contact her, Kayaje’s condition is unknown.

Although the report was only written based on her words in the interview, and Human Rights Watch were unable to verify her case due to the lack of evidence available, when putting her case into context it has to be said that the Lebanese army has a record of torturing prisoners. It is common for women to be raped in detention centres, which is where Kayaje alleges that she was raped twice by two members of military intelligence. Not only is rape a routine form of political violence, but prisoners, especially women, are also forced to perform sexual acts in return for basic needs, such as food and water.

Prisoners are usually beaten, denied access to medication and filmed while being humiliated; some of the videos have been leaked. One of the more recent videos leaked in June shows a man in a flooded prison cell being beaten with a green rod and kicked in the head while his arms and feet were tied. There was also another leaked film which showed men in a caged room, with their arms and feet tied while being systematically beaten.

The case of Kayaje is not unusual; it represents wider corruption within the Lebanese system which allows systematic abuse of prisoners to occur. The international community needs not only to push for Kayaje’s release, but also for the institutional violence and torture within Lebanon to be addressed. Those who are conducting and condoning the systematic torture of prisoners must be held accountable. The silence surrounding this state of affairs must be broken.