That was probably the sound I heard most often during my weeklong stay. The sound echoes on the floor anytime a detainee tries to get the guard’s attention, be it for a cigarette, for food, for a status check, or because some detainees are pulling up a fight.
|No shutting up! Speak out like these flower burgeons|
on a blossoming tree in Geitaoui
Besides getting acquainted with Jail culture, Jail etiquette and Jail jargon (as mastered like no other by this underground rap band called “Irhab” from Roumieh), I also had enough time to digest quite a few lessons that I hope will keep me on the safe side in the future:
We live under a corrupt Justice system…
Yes, we already knew that, but as much as I’d heard about it before I was still shocked to see it at work from the inside. If you get arrested in Lebanon, the legal limit on detention time (up to 48 hours) without getting a hearing, exposing the charges and proofs against you or speaking with a lawyer, simply does not always apply. You can linger in for days and weeks before they even turn to your case, especially if you don’t take the proper steps to get help from the outside. And even more than in our society in general, socioeconomic class plays a huge role in the kind of treatment we get and whether our rights are secured or not.
… where you really need to have your ass covered
Getting help from the outside in such an emergency situation meant I had to involve my family into the details of my case. They in turn had to attempt anything and everything to get me out of there, like trying to call Someone who knows Someone or hiring a “good” lawyer – and making 2,000$+ readily available for it. Ideally, I would already have a lawyer’s contact that I would have called myself. Getting this kind of help is the only way out of the rotten structure, for the system’s so corrupt that one guy can make it all the way to Roumieh to serve a jail sentence, while for the same exact charge another guy might get out straight from the courthouse without even a hearing with the judge.
… where they won’t hesitate to intimidate you
During what probably added up to 4 hours of interrogations and filling out endless sheets of Q&As in my deposition, my interrogators added a number of twists here and there to my own version of the events, sugarcoating it at places especially the beating part. I ended up signing on a declaration that I did not entirely agree with. While this probably spared me some physical torture in Hbeich, some others’ interrogations did not go as softly as mine. As for mental pressure, I did have to cope with the humiliating remarks of some of the guards, and almost broke down on my first day in the basement of the courthouse in Baabda, the closest place to Hell on Earth I ever experienced. I was lucky I did not catch the eye infection that many of us were starting to get.
… where drugs can aggravate any other case
Urine tests seem to have become commonplace in the detention centers, the airport and other security checkpoints. They can test you for THC (cannabis), cocaine and morphine regardless of whether you are being arrested for a drugs-related issue or not. That a test comes out positive from smoking up in the last month or snoring a line in the last couple days, would aggravate any other case with the heavy charge of ‘drug consumption’ (ta3aati), a charge that remains on criminal records for 2 or more years. And that’s regardless of which kind of drug it was, how much of it, how long ago, if it was found on you at the time of arrest… and even what country you were in when you used it!
… where homosexuality is still considered a real crime
Yes there is a flourishing gay scene in Lebanon, yes Beirut is full of horny guys and gay sex is everywhere, yes Beirut boasts loads of gay friendly places from bars to clubs to hammams to cruising spots, you name it, it has it all... So much that we tend to forget at times that it also has Article 534 of the Constitution, the law that makes homosexuality illegal in Lebanon, a law we keep in mental denial like only we Lebanese know how to. Most of the time it seems like this law is collecting dust in some chief officer’s drawer, but yet in other instances like in my case (which may be exceptional, I don’t know) it seems like they just take it off-hold and use it sporadically, like a joker card they can pull out anywhere, anytime.
… and we need to do something about it!
Seven packs of cigarettes, seven days and seven nights later, looking like shit, smelling like shit and feeling like shit, I’m finally out and back home. Apart from the scars, it already feels like a bad dream and I could easily act as though nothing had happened, call it a bad week and slowly forget it – But some good friends are telling me that maybe it happened for a reason and I have to do something about it. So I decided to write it down on GiB, share it with the local organizations such as Helem and Human Rights Watch to support their upcoming report on police brutality, and consider filing a complaint. Was this a courageous or a suicidal thing to do, a good thing for me and with a positive impact on the community or another drop of sand in the Sahara, and do I have this freedom of speech in Lebanon today... I guess I’ll have to wait to find out!
-- By GiL. Photo by GiB#2.