(Beirut) - Lebanon should release migrants and refugees who remain in detention despite having finished their sentences, a group of 14 Lebanese and international human rights organizations said yesterday in a letter to top officials. The letter to the President, Prime Minister and Justice and Interior Ministers says there is no legal basis for continuing to detain most of these prisoners.
An August 2009 report by Lebanon's own Internal Security Forces says that 13 percent of detainees in Lebanese jails were foreigners who had finished serving their sentences. Today, at least 230 foreigners, including at least 13 known refugees, are in prison even though they have finished their sentences. Over the last two months, Lebanese courts issued four decisions, each in a case of a detained Iraqi whose sentence had ended, saying that the continued detention was illegal because it was not based on a judicial or administrative decision. Despite these decisions, General Security, the security institution with jurisdiction over foreigners, has released only one of the four.
"Lebanon's judiciary has finally recognized that foreigners are being detained illegally after their sentences end," the groups said. "Now it's up to the government to make sure its security service complies."
Under existing practice, when a foreign detainee finishes serving his or her sentence, the Internal Security Forces, which manage the prisons, do not release the person but rather refer the case to General Security, regardless of whether the court has ruled that the person should be deported after the sentence ends. Many of these foreign detainees are then kept for months before they are either released or deported.
In their letter, the human rights groups emphasized that the current practice of automatically detaining foreigners when their sentences end has no legal basis and contradicts Article 8 of the Lebanese Constitution, which states that, "No one may be arrested, imprisoned, or kept in custody except in according to the provisions of the law." Lebanese law generally provides that in cases where the court orders the deportation of a foreigner, that person has 15 days to leave the country "by his or her own means" (Art. 89 of the Penal Code).
The only provision in Lebanese law that allows General Security to detain a person is if that individual presents a threat to national security or public security. In such a case, but only in such a case, Article 18 of the 1962 Law on Entry and Exit allows the director general of General Security to detain a foreigner administratively with the approval of the public prosecutor until his or her deportation.
The letter urges the Interior Minister, who is responsible for prisons, to enforce the remaining three judicial decisions calling for the immediate release of the three Iraqis, Riad Ali Hashem, Wisam al-Yusef, and Maytham al-Bay`i. In addition, the groups urged the Ministries of Justice and Interior to form a joint committee to prepare a list of all foreigners who have finished serving their sentences and who remain in detention without legal basis and to end their illegal detention.
In addition, the groups urged the government to reform its policy towards foreigners who enter the country illegally or who overstay their residency by developing alternatives to detention that ensure their rights, dignity and well-being. Proposed alternatives include supervised release, regular reporting requirements, or posting bail. It also called for the amendment to the 1962 Law Regulating the Entry and Stay of Foreigners in Lebanon and their Exit from the Country to exempt asylum seekers and refugees from penalties for being in the country illegally.
The groups that signed the letter are: Human Rights Watch, Action des Chretiens pour Abolir la Torture (ACAT), Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l'Homme, Al-Karama, Association Libanaise pour l'Education et la Formation (ALEF), Euromediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN), Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme (FIDH), Frontiers Ruwad Association, Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture, Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PINACLE), Restart Center For Rehabilitation Of Victims Of Violence And Torture, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).