Human rights organizations are gravely concerned by the Lebanese authorities’ recent attempts to silence and discredit Mohammed Sablouh, a human rights lawyer defending victims of torture and Syrian refugees facing deportation. The actions of the Lebanese authorities represent an unacceptable infringement on the work of lawyers and other human rights defenders, in light of Lebanon’s ongoing failure to meet its legal obligations to prevent and punish the use of torture and to abide by the principle of non-refoulement.
Mohammed Sablouh is a Lebanese lawyer and the director of the Prisoners’ Rights Center at the Tripoli Bar Association. For nearly 15 years, he has been documenting cases of torture and other ill-treatment in Lebanese detention facilities and advocating on behalf of victims both at the domestic and international levels. Recently, Sablouh’s work exposing the torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners in the Military Police prison in Beirut, at the Fakhr El-Din barrack (Ramla al-Bayda), and his advocacy against the forcible deportation of Syrian refugees garnered significant media coverage in the Lebanese press. As a result, he has been subjected to abusive legal challenges and other forms of intimidation, particularly from the General Security Directorate and the Military Prosecution.
On 23 September 2021, the Government’s Commissioner to the Military Court, Judge Fadi Akiki and the Military Police, pressured one of Sablouh’s clients, a detainee in the Fakhr El-Din facility, to testify that Sablouh’s allegations of torture were fabricated, according to family members. On 28 September, the Military Prosecution sent a letter to the Tripoli Bar Association requesting the authorization to prosecute Sablouh under article 403 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which penalizes false accusations. This request indicates that the Lebanese authorities are initiating retaliatory legal proceedings against Sablouh in an attempt to discredit his legally sanctioned work documenting instances of torture.
By obstructing the work of lawyers, Lebanon is violating its own laws and criminal procedures as well as its international human rights obligations. The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers requires governments to ensure that lawyers “are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” and that they “shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.” On 8 October, Sablouh’s case was submitted to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the independence of judges and lawyers and on human rights defenders.
Call to action
We, the undersigned national and international human rights organizations, call on Lebanon to respect the work of lawyers and others advocating on behalf of victims of torture and to adhere to its legal obligations to prevent and punish the use of torture.
We call on the Lebanese authorities, and particularly the Military Prosecution and the General Security Directorate, to: