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AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: FURTHER INVESTIGATION NEEDED INTO DEATHS OF SYRIAN REFUGEES IN MILITARY CUSTODY

NNA - The Lebanese authorities must disclose the full findings of their investigation into the deaths of four Syrian refugees, said Amnesty International, after the country's military prosecutor yesterday revealed that a forensic report concluded that they had died of "natural causes". The men died after they were arrested in a military raid on the town of Arsal on 30 June 2017.

Forensic analysis of photographs showing the bodies of three of the four deceased men, commissioned by Amnesty International, reveals signs of recent beatings and trauma to the head, legs and arms suggesting they may have been tortured.

"It is extremely important for the full findings of the forensic report commissioned by the military prosecutor to be made public and accessible to the lawyers and families of the victims," said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International.

"Independent forensic analysis of photographs of the bodies obtained by Amnesty International raise serious questions about whether these men faced torture or other ill-treatment while in custody. International standards require that the full details of the official forensic report be disclosed. If torture is deemed the cause of death, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) must take the necessary steps to bring those responsible to justice, in a fair trial."

Prior to yesterday's announcement, a statement issued by the LAF on 4 July claimed the four men, Anas Hussein al-Hasiki, Mustafa Abdulkarim Abse, Khaled Hussein el-Mleis and Othman Merhi el-Mleis had died of "chronic diseases" and "climate conditions". Amnesty International saw reports by a forensic doctor at Riyak Hospital dated 1 and 2 July 2017 saying that the two men died of heart attacks and one of a stroke and that their bodies showed no signs of physical violence.

Both these reports and the statement made by the military prosecutor that the men died of "natural causes" are inconsistent with Amnesty International's findings.

According to information gathered by Amnesty International one of the deceased Syrian men, Anas Hussein al-Hasiki, was arrested from his flat outside al-Qariya camp during the raids. He was taken to Riyak detention centre where he was repeatedly beaten by soldiers in front of other detainees. According to eye-witness accounts, he was severely beaten on three separate occasions, losing consciousness each time. The final time, the soldiers beating him tried to wake him up by forcing water down his mouth but were unable to revive him. He died a couple of hours later.

Efforts by lawyers representing the families of three of the deceased men to find out their causes of death were quashed by military officials. Despite the lawyers receiving a court order for another forensic doctor to examine the bodies and analyze medical samples, the samples were confiscated from the lawyer by Military Intelligence on 6 July.

The military prosecution later announced that it had opened its own investigation and had assigned three forensic doctors to examine the bodies. However, the lawyers representing the families were never informed of the results of the examinations. Neither they nor the families have been given a copy of the forensic report completed by the three forensic doctors.

Amnesty International urges the Lebanese authorities to ensure an impartial investigation into the deaths of the four men in custody, in addition to other allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention and torture and other ill-treatment.

Suspected perpetrators must be immediately suspended from carrying out military operations pending the conclusion of these investigations.

"While we understand the Lebanese authorities' duty to counter security threats and to protect the population from deadly attacks, they must do so while respecting the human rights protections set out in international law, as well as ensuring accountability for any human rights violations committed by army or security officers."

Source: National; News Agency