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Myra Abdallah

Raped in a Lebanese detention center

“Do not get scared when you hear the voices of prisoners in the other room screaming. We do not usually beat people up, but now we are bored and we want to have some fun,” he said.

If one were to imagine a stereotypical Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir supporter, you wouldn’t imagine Amar (pseudonym). When she walked into the coffee shop for this interview, she was dressed like any number of 30-something, socially liberal women in Lebanon. Amar once owned a pet clinic in the Abra area of Saida before she was forced to shut it down. A Sunni, she used to drink alcohol and only stopped for medical reasons, and details of her lifestyle are evidence enough of her open-mindedness. But she was also an early supporter of Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, the infamous radical Sunni cleric from Saida recently arrested in Beirut attempting to flee the country. Amar’s support for Assir ultimately led to her arrest by Lebanese authorities. While detained, she was brutally assaulted and gang-raped by officials. This is her story.

 

 

NOW: How did all this begin?

 

Amar: It all started with the Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir movement emerging in Saida. As a Saida resident, I felt that I was exposed and no one was protecting me. For me, Assir was a sheikh who was defending all people, especially the Sunnis. It started as a peaceful movement, but when Assir’s calls were not answered, the movement took a wrong turn and it became more violent. At the beginning, I started supporting Assir because I believed he was doing the right things and this is when many people started to be against me.

 

NOW: Were you the subject of any threats?

 

Amar: Yes. In fact, I had a pet clinic in Abra. A lot of people attacked me there. They used to send me threatening messages and break into my shop to insult me in front of everybody. Because of this, I had to close my shop because I do not dare going there anymore. Before closing, people used to throw stones at me if they saw me walking on the street and sometimes they would shoot guns in the air to scare me. This happened directly after the Abra battle, although I did not have any direct connection with Assir. I used to pray at the Al-Imam mosque only and I used to like the sheikh. I used to post statements on Facebook, too, expressing my political opinion. I complained at the Ministry of Justice and they advised me to file a legal complaint, but they did not do anything about it.

 

NOW: Why were you arrested?

 

Amar: I was arrested after a personal conflict with the son of one of the commanders at the Lebanese Army intelligence branch. He used to enter my shop and insult me in front of everybody — he didn’t care if there were customers there or not. The story behind his behavior is that Ahmad al-Assir used to verbally attack his father. He once entered my shop in the evening, I was late at work and he was drunk. The employees were there and I was waiting for them to finish their tasks to close the clinic. He started insulting me loudly. That night, I asked him to leave and never come back to my shop. I literally told him that I did not care what he or his father could do to me. I threatened him for attacking me in my workplace. The next day, I receive a threatening message from someone from the Al-Masri family, known for being politically affiliated with Hezbollah. The third day, I got arrested.

 

NOW: What happened when you were detained?

 

Amar: I was arrested for five days and charged with 18 offenses. They accused me of being Assir’s office manager, of carrying weapons and communication devices, of having secret videos, attempting assassination, and others. I only supported Assir theoretically and did not have anything to do with the activities he used to plan for. The only contact I had with some of Assir’s people was in my shop, if they had animals and were my customers. When they arrested me, they searched my phone and did not find anything related to Assir. They tried to make me confess to the charges but I didn’t.

 

NOW: Did they physically assault you?

 

Amar: This is the biggest story I had to live. I was arrested for five days — I was hit and beaten up a lot. At first, they held me at the Ministry of Justice for three days and then transferred me to Rihaniyye. I had aneurysms in my leg because of the stress and the terror I had to deal with while I was detained. They did not allow me to call any lawyer or my parents. For five days, my parents did not know where I was. I was also raped.

 

The day I was transferred to Rihaniyye — at the army intelligence branch detention center — I was sitting in my cell and trying to rest and I took off my jeans to wash up since I was alone in the cell. I was wearing a very long shirt that was long enough to cover me up in case somebody entered. All of a sudden, a muscled man came into my cell. I still remember him; his eyes were green, and he had a scarf wrapped around his wrist. He started threatening me. “Do not get scared when you hear the voices of prisoners in the other room screaming. We do not usually beat people up, but now we are bored and we want to have some fun,” he said. He went out, leaving the door open. After a few minutes, he came back in with another man. One of them cornered me against the wall and held my shoulders to restrain me from moving. I couldn’t resist him — he was stronger than me. This is when he raped me. When he was done, the other man approached me and did the same. They raped me twice. I was actually raped and sodomized. Afterwards, they started accusing me of being a prostitute and said they would investigate my ‘prostitution activities.’ When I asked them whether they were asking about my political activities or my sexual life, they hit me in the face. One of my teeth broke.

 

NOW: How were you released?

 

Amar: When they arrested me, I was at my shop. My employees were there and saw what happened. They notified a few of my friends. A lot of pressure started then — people who were supportive started acting accordingly. They also organized protests. My family started speaking to a few of their connections. I still do not know why I was released but I assume it was because of all this pressure. I have also been told that Ashraf Rifi was also working on my case to get me released.

 

NOW: Did you hire a lawyer? Did you speak to anyone about this?

 

Amar: The second I was released, I called a doctor I know to give me a medical report to prove I had been raped. When he found out that the incident happened to me at a detention center and by army intelligence officers, he did not want his name to be involved. I assumed many doctors would give the same answer. I hired a lawyer. Likewise, the lawyer advised me not to speak about it, because I would expose myself and no one would believe me. I felt that nobody would support me, so I didn’t dare to speak about it. I was too scared it might happen again.

 

NOW: What happened next?

 

Amar: My lawyer just followed up on the charges against me. Surprisingly, more than a month after my release release, he found out that there was an arrest warrant in my name. However, I was sentenced in absentia. According to the legal procedure, I was never detained. When my lawyer told me this, it came to my mind that they did not make me sign any paper, not even the investigation proceedings. Currently, I am following up with my lawyer on this case and going to court sessions. I am avoiding going to any official institution, especially institutions related to General Security of the Lebanese Army. The incident traumatized me. I do not even dare to go to General Security to renew my passport. I am scared of being detained again and having the same thing happen.

 

Myra Abdallah tweets @myraabdallah

“Do not get scared when you hear the voices of prisoners in the other room screaming. We do not usually beat people up, but now we are bored and we want to have some fun,” he said.

The next day, I receive a threatening message from someone from the Al-Masri family, known for being politically affiliated with Hezbollah. The third day, I got arrested.”

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    This behavior is endemic to Lebanese security, which they learned from their Syrian masters. This behavior is what awaits leaders of the protest movement should their protests fail. The political-religious-security establishment has much to lose from a successful protest movement, and it will repress the movement with all its might. We are only at the beginning of what could be a very tortuous and dangerous road ahead. I foresee an eventual Sissi-like power grab by the security apparatus in collusion with the religious-political establishment. Lebanon is no different from Egypt or Syria or any other Arab state with a popular rebellion in its midst. In fact, Lebanon is much worse because of the plurality of its constituents, and the diversity within the protest movement is its Achilles heel because of the complexity of keeping the rebellion unified.

    September 5, 2015