Tripoli and Injustice in Lebanon- 5 years and counting of detention awaiting trial

In Tripoli Minister Faisal Omar Karami’s envoy was subject to an armed attack by unknown assailants.  The attack got a lot of government and media attention- a nearby protest did not get the attention it needed.

The attack coincided with a gathering of Sunni Muslim Islamists and their supporters protesting the detention of Sunni Islamists in the military prison in Roumieh. The families and supporters of the detainees were not protesting the innocence of the detainees or asking for their immediate release. They were protesting the unjust reality that in the democratic Republic of Lebanon one hundred eighty Sunni Islamists, Lebanese citizens, are detained without charges awaiting an appearance before a judge. They have been languishing in poor prison conditions awaiting an initial appearance in court. Why the more than five years of detention without charges or trials?

The reasoning given by the Lebanese government is that this delay is due to the lack of proper courtroom space to hold the hearings. This continued detention and the seeming lack of concern on the part of Sunni politicians, most of whom are eager to be seen enlightened nationalists and not the least sectarian, is creating space for Sunni Islamists to claim the mantle of the leadership of the sect by speaking on behalf of the “wronged Sunnis.” This detention is presented as proof of the marginalization of the Sunnis and their denial of basic rights and freedoms. The perceived lack of involvement or care by the Sunni representatives in government is seen as evidence of the lack of their  legitimacy- and the system's. The Sunni politicians, especially those from the North, are supposed to defend their sect's rights in the confessional regime of Lebanon.

 The Lebanese Sunnis are losing confidence in their representatives in government due to the perception that these politicians are not doing much to help. These politicians are seen as afraid of being perceived as soft on terror or sympathetic to groups perceived as radical and violent. Faisal Omar Karami is one of these Sunni politicians. It’s unclear if the armed attack on his envoy is related to the detainees’ issue.

The reality is that there are serious sectarian tensions in Lebanon that are fed in part by a sense of Sunni grievance that the government is not dealing fairly with the Sunni Lebanese. The thinking is that had these detainees been Christian or Shia they would not have languished in detention for all these years. A point often raised is that Lebanese who spied for Israel, one of them a prominent former adviser of MP Michel Aoun, a Christian, received a speedy trial and served time in prison that is shorter than the pretrial detention of the Sunni Islamists. This reality is seen as evidence that the government is treating Sunni Lebanese as second- class citizens.

There is no doubt that some of these detainees are guilty- may be even many of them might be guilty. However, it does not take much under Lebanese law to detain someone for a seemingly open ended period where it might end up that the time spent in detention awaiting a court appearance is greater than the punishment for the possible charges.
 The continuation of this reality, detention without charges aggravates the sense of Sunni grievance and is not good for the detainees, their families, or justice.  



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