Riots erupted in Lebanon’s notoriously overcrowded prisons on Monday, over fears that a coronavirus outbreak would spread quickly among prisoners. The government in Beirut has declared a state of national emergency over coronavirus and ordered a two-week lockdown to combat the spread of the virus.
Minister of the Interior and Municipalities Mohammed Fahmi has said there are no cases of coronavirus in any of the country’s prisons, but inmates have demanded to be released on parole, at least temporarily.
Videos have surfaced on social media which show prisoners threatening to self-harm if their cases are not revisited, and expressing rage that the General Amnesty Law has not been passed. Dozens of inmates are now on hunger strike to demand an amnesty.
At the moment, inmates who have served their sentence but cannot pay the fine to be released can be pardoned. According to Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad, the Cabinet approved an urgently drafted law in a session on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, videos from two of the country’s largest prisons, Roumieh and Zahle, show inmates staging protests and chanting slogans demanding an amnesty. Others show prisoners using broken doors and other wooden objects to start fires and attempting to break out of their cells.
Riots continued on Tuesday after Amer Fakhoury, accused of torturing and murdering inmates while working as a prison guard in the notorious Khiam Prison in the 1980s and 1990s, was acquitted. Security forces were seen intervening and attempting to contain the situation in Roumieh Prison. Clashes between inmates and security forces continued all evening, prompting riot police to intervene, according to local media LBCI.
Inmates allege that security personnel used live ammunition, with images surfacing on social media showing a man on the ground with a large wound in his torso. “Look at what the state is doing to us,” shout the men tending to the wounded prisoner.Al Jazeera reported that an Internal Security Forces source confirmed that two inmates were injured but said that rubber bullets, not live ammunition, were used. The source added that the situation is now “stable”.
Lebanon’s prisons have long struggled with overcrowding. There are an estimated 10,000 detainees spread across 25 prisons and 261 local jails, according to statistics gathered by the Beirut Bar Association in December. The association has sought to provide free legal aid to prisoners whose cases were stalled due to the lack of legal representation, and raise the money to pay fines for inmates who have served their sentences.