Arab Times

COVID hits Le­banese ‘prison’ as in­mates jockey for re­lease

Over­crowd­ing jails main prob­lem

- Crime · Coronavirus (COVID-19) · Prison · Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · Beirut · Lebanon · Justice Ministry

BEIRUT, Sept 17, (AP): Le­banon’s largest prison on Thurs­day was grap­pling with an alarm­ing coro­n­avirus out­break, as many in­mates re­fused to take pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures or get tested un­der the im­pres­sion that catch­ing the virus could speed up their re­lease as part of a ru­mored gen­eral amnesty, the head of the coun­try’s doc­tors union warned.

Over 200 of the 3,000 de­tainees at Roumieh prison have tested pos­i­tive in re­cent days, Sharaf Abu Sharaf, pres­i­dent of Le­banese Or­der of Physi­cians, told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

The out­break in the prison east of Beirut, which is no­to­ri­ous for over­crowd­ing, comes as Le­banon is wit­ness­ing a sharp in­crease in coro­n­avirus cases and deaths. Some de­tainees’ fam­i­lies have urged the state to is­sue amnesty to cer­tain de­tainees to re­duce the pos­si­bil­ity of the virus sweep­ing through the coun­try’s prison pop­u­la­tion.

“Over­crowd­ing is the prison’s main prob­lem,” Abu Sharaf said, adding that the 223 de­tainees who tested pos­i­tive were be­ing quar­an­tined in a sep­a­rate build­ing in­side the prison com­pound. He said the vast ma­jor­ity of de­tainees had mi­nor or no symp­toms, and small num­ber had been taken to a nearby hos­pi­tal for treat­ment.

Some ob­servers say the spread of the virus in Le­banon is be­ing used to pres­sure the gov­ern­ment to im­ple­ment a gen­eral amnesty for pris­on­ers.

Hun­dreds have been jailed for years with­out trial, while oth­ers who’ve served their prison terms but don’t have enough money to pay fines are still be­ing held. Pris­on­ers locked up for se­ri­ous cases like killing mem­bers of Le­banon’s se­cu­rity forces or drug deal­ing are not likely to be in­cluded in any amnesty.

A video ap­par­ently leaked from in­side Roumieh prison and posted on so­cial me­dia showed dozens of de­tainees packed in a hall, none of them wear­ing masks, with one say­ing: “We are dy­ing in­side the prison. There is no food or medicine. There is no pro­tec­tion here.”

An­other video showed four men sleep­ing on mat­tresses, some of them cough­ing, with the video’s nar­ra­tor claim­ing that they were in­fected with COVID-19. The videos could not be in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied, but claimed to be from in­side Roumieh.

Abu Sharaf said that since the virus spread to Le­banon ear­lier this year, pris­on­ers have been sup­plied with masks and san­i­tiz­ers to pro­tect them­selves.

Out­go­ing Health Minister Ha­mad Has­san told re­porters that the min­istry and prison of­fi­cials are co­or­di­nat­ing to guar­an­tee the safety and med­i­cal care of all pris­on­ers.

In April, pris­on­ers ri­oted in a jail in north­ern Le­banon de­mand­ing that they be re­leased amid fears of the virus.

Out­go­ing Jus­tice Minister Marie-Claude Najm said 2,717 de­tainees have been re­leased from March 1 through Sept. 1 from prisons and de­ten­tion cen­ters around Le­banon as a result of ex­pe­dit­ing their cases. She added that de­tainees who are serv­ing prison sen­tences can fill out ap­pli­ca­tions ask­ing for a spe­cial amnesty.

“For the first time in Le­banon’s his­tory, we are do­ing elec­tronic ques­tion­ing,” Najm told the lo­cal LBC TV, adding that this has led to the re­lease of de­tainees who were held with­out trial.

Le­banon, a na­tion of 5 mil­lion, has recorded a sharp in­crease in reg­is­tered cases in re­cent weeks, with 634 new cases on Wed­nes­day alone. The lat­est figures pushed the to­tal num­ber of cases to 26,083 since the first re­ported in­fec­tion in late Fe­bru­ary, while deaths have reached 259.

The rise be­gan after a lock­down was eased and the coun­try’s only in­ter­na­tional air­port was re­opened in early July.

Cases shot up dra­mat­i­cally days after the Aug. 4 ex­plo­sion of nearly 3,000 tons of am­mo­nium ni­trate stored at the port of Beirut. The blast killed 192 peo­ple, wounded some 6,500 and left a quar­ter of a mil­lion with homes un­fit to live in.

The blast over­whelmed the city’s hos­pi­tals and also badly dam­aged two hos­pi­tals that had a key role in han­dling virus cases.

Dr. Fi­ras Abiad, a doc­tor lead­ing the fight against coro­n­avirus, said 8% of all tests are com­ing back pos­i­tive.

 ??  ?? Dozens of Pales­tini­ans flash the vic­tory sign as they protest against their per­ma­nent set­tle­ment in Le­banon and de­mand­ing immigratio­n, near the US em­bassy in Aukar, north­east of Beirut, Le­banon. The fi­nan­cial cri­sis that the UN agency for Pales­tinian refugees is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing could lead to ceas­ing some of its ac­tiv­i­ties in what would raise risks of in­sta­bil­ity in this volatile re­gion,
the head of the agency said on Sept 16. (AP)
Dozens of Pales­tini­ans flash the vic­tory sign as they protest against their per­ma­nent set­tle­ment in Le­banon and de­mand­ing immigratio­n, near the US em­bassy in Aukar, north­east of Beirut, Le­banon. The fi­nan­cial cri­sis that the UN agency for Pales­tinian refugees is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing could lead to ceas­ing some of its ac­tiv­i­ties in what would raise risks of in­sta­bil­ity in this volatile re­gion, the head of the agency said on Sept 16. (AP)

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