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(Beirut) – Lebanon’s army should immediately reveal the whereabouts of Layal al-Kayaje who was detained by Military Intelligence on September 21, 2015, after she alleged to local media that members of Military Intelligence had raped and tortured her during a previous detention in 2013, Human Rights Watch said today.

Layal al-Kayaje. © Private 2015

The Lebanese Army issued a statement on September 22 claiming that al-Kayaje had confessed to lying about being raped and that they had referred her to the “relevant judicial instances” without specifying the charges or the court. The army did not specify where it was holding al-Kayaje, and her family and friends have not been able to reach her.

“The behavior of military intelligence smacks of intimidation and revenge,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director. “While we don’t know what happened to al-Kayaje in 2013, the judiciary should investigate her serious allegations of rape instead of allowing Military Intelligence to hold her incommunicado.”

The Lebanese judiciary should open an independent and impartial investigation into her ongoing detention as well as her previous allegations of torture and rape and hold anyone involved criminally responsible, Human Rights Watch said. A group of local organizations also issued a joint statement calling on the judiciary to investigate.

Military Intelligence detained al-Kayaje, a Palestinian resident of the southern Lebanese city of Sadia, who was born to a Lebanese mother, for five days in September 2013. Al-Kayaje spoke about her arrest and ordeal with a local media outlet, NOW News, which published the interview on September 4, 2015. Using the pseudonym “Amar,” al-Kayaje said that she had been arrested because she had posted messages of support for the cleric Ahmad al-Assir on Facebook and because many of the customers in a shop where she worked were his followers. Heavy clashes broke out in Saida in June 2013 between armed followers of al-Assir and the army, leaving 18 soldiers and 28 of al-Assir’s supporters dead.

In her interview with NOW News, al-Kayaje alleged that she was tortured while in custody at the Ministry of Defense and then later raped by members of Military Intelligence at their detention center in Rehaniyyeh. Asked whether she had pressed charges following her release, al-Kayaje responded that she had called a doctor to get a medical report to prove she had been raped, the article said. She said:

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.

A family member told Human Rights Watch that al-Kayaje received a call from Military Intelligence in Saida on September 21 asking her to come in for questioning. A day later, the army issued a statement identifying “Amar” as al-Kayaje, and stating that she had confessed to lying about being raped to gain “sympathy and get a job opportunity.” The army statement said that al-Kayaje’s arrest in 2013 was for “chats on social media that hurt the military institution and a number of politicians, for inciting sectarian hatred, and for participating in efforts to draw someone in for the purpose of hurting him.”

Al-Kayaje’s relative and one of her friends told Human Rights Watch that they have been inquiring about her whereabouts since her arrest but have yet to receive any answers. In addition, they expressed concern that the military had revealed an alleged rape victim’s identity.

The army statement also said that it had also detained a second woman in Saida for falsely claiming that she had been raped.

Human Rights Watch cannot independently confirm the accuracy of al-Kayaje’s claims. However, such claims should be investigated by Lebanon’s judiciary, not by the security agency that is accused of responsibility for the act.

Defaming or criticizing the Lebanese army is considered a criminal offense in Lebanon, which can carry a jail sentence. Ambiguous definitions of defamation and slander open the door for silencing legitimate criticism of public officials and threaten freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch previously documented several cases in which bloggers and journalists were fined or sentenced to prison on allegations of defamation.

In 2013, Human Rights Watch documented allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and a death in custody by the Lebanese army following the 2013 clashes in Saida. Human Rights Watch separately later documented two cases in which Syrian women in Military Intelligence custody in 2015 had been threatened with rape.

The United Nations Convention against Torture, to which Lebanon is a party, requires Lebanon to investigate all allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence, in a diligent, timely, and effective manner to bring those responsible to justice.

Prolonged incommunicado detention and other due process violations flout Lebanese laws, which require authorities to bring detainees before a court of law within 96 hours at most. The Lebanese Code of Criminal Procedures further guarantees a detainee the right to contact a lawyer or family member. Incommunicado detention and denying a detainee the right to a lawyer contravenes Lebanon’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it ratified in 1972.

“The Lebanese army has decided to hold al-Kayaje and smear her name without any semblance of due process,” Houry said. “The judiciary should get involved to determine why al-Kayaje was arrested in the first place, examine the allegations of rape, and ensure that due process is respected.”

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