By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
BEIRUT, Lebanon – On August 30, Rami Aysha was investigating arms smuggling and trafficking by Beirut airport when he was detained and charged with the same crimes he was investigating. After being held for twenty-eight days, Aysha has now been released on bail.
Aysha alleges serious mistreatment from the Lebanese authorities. He first reported to Reporters Without Borders that he was kidnapped by a dozen men. As a gun was held to his head, he was handcuffed and blindfolded. They took his camera and smashed it over his head.
He recalled further mental and physical harassment. As he was blindfolded and the gun was pointed at his head, he remembered being asked on which side he wanted the bullet. Additionally, when Aysha was handed over to the Lebanese intelligence service, he recalled them shouting, “Fuck you. Fuck journalism!” as he was beaten.
On four separate occasions, Aysha was interrogated by military police. Throughout the course of these investigations, he was not permitted to sleep, nor was he given food or water. When he was eventually released, he was observed to have bruises all over his body, broken ribs, and a broken finger. Perhaps the worst of his injuries was the psychological trauma. He is only out of detention on bail and still faces charges of arms smuggling and trafficking crimes. His bail was set at one million Lebanese pounds, the equivalent of 515 Euros.
Aysha fully intends to challenge the charges against him. He said that he “will fight in court to prove [his] innocence.”
Those in Aysha’s family were not made aware of his predicament for approximately a week until a released military prisoner contacted them. Since then, the family has been told to keep quiet. Threats have been made against Aysha’s brother demanding that he should not “make a fuss” about what happened to Aysha.
Out of all the countries in the Middle East, Lebanon is generally considered one of the better countries at respecting press freedoms. Many speculate that the reason why Aysha was taken into custody was because the arms dealings which he was covering were between Lebanon and Syria. As of now, Lebanon is politically divided about whether to support the revolts in Syria. Hezbollah and its allies support President Bashar al-Assad while the rest of the country opposes the Syrian regime.
Reporters Without Borders has demanded that Lebanon withdraw all the charges against Aysha and that the country look into Aysha’s mistreatment and punish all who were responsible. It made this declaration to Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn, Minister of the Interior and Municipalities Marwan Charbel, and Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi.
“We are very disturbed by the mistreatment … of Rami Aysha. Journalists in Lebanon must be able to work freely during this critical time in the country’s history,” exclaimed Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Rami Aysha is a correspondent for various media outlets, including GlobalPost, Spiegel Online, and Time magazine.
For further information, please see:
Guardian – Lebanese Investigative Journalist Tortured – 3 October 2012
Reporters Without Borders – Freed From Detention but Still Facing Charges – 2 October 2012
YaLibnan – Journalist Tortured in Custody in Lebanon – 2 October 2012
Time – A Journalist Behind Bars: The Dangers of Reporting in Lebanon – 15 September 2012