BEIRUT: Lebanese actor Ziad Itani, framed for collaborating with Israeli agents and subsequently exonerated, has detailed to Human Rights Watch (HRW) his ordeal in custody while describing his forced disappearance and torture by men in civilian clothing in an undisclosed location.
Itani told HRW that he was forcibly apprehended on November 23, "hit in the face, chest, and blindfolded", before being taken to a "room prepared for torture, painted entirely black with metal hooks along the wall."
He described six men dressed in civilian clothing who accused him of "talking to the Israelis" and threatening to harm his daughter and wife. “You have to talk because you need to understand that there is torture in all countries," he was told, according to HRW.
Itani was arrested under bizarre circumstances and held in solitary confinement before it emerged that he was framed by Major Suzanne Hajj Hobeiche, the former head of the Anti-Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Bureau who hired a hacker named Elie Ghabash. Both Hobeiche and Ghabash are currently being tried in the case and face up to 10 years in prison.
Hobeiche was released on bail last month while Ghabash remains in custody.
Itani said the men, who had a folder labeled “State Security,” interrogated him for two to three hours about connections to Israel before asking him to call his wife and "tell he would be away for 10 days."
State Security is a branch of Lebanon's security apparatus which falls under the jurisdiction of the Higher Security Council. The council is chaired by the President, with the Prime Minister acting as his deputy.
The actor, who was released on March 13, told HRW that interrogators began torturing him after he refused to sign a confession on November 26, with four men tieing him in a stress position and hitting "him with a cable as he screamed."
Itani told HRW the men then punched him "in the face, chest, and groin and kicked him, and that one man pulled his pants off and hit his genitals". He said the men then strapped his wrists to a bar in the doorway so that his feet barely touched the ground and left him in that position for hours.
According to HRW, Itani sent in a doctor's report detailing injuries to his mouth and seven of his teeth, while recalling one of the men speaking on the phone, saying “we can’t hand him over yet, there are marks on him.”
Itani was also threatened with sexual abuse, telling HRW that one man told him that a rod would be inserted in his anus if he didn't sign, while another said that his colleague would "ride you, and we don’t care because you are a traitor.”
Last year, Lebanon amended article 401 of the criminal code, establishing establish torture as a crime, including acts that lead to severe physical or mental pain or suffering. Article 401 criminalizes the use of violence to extract confessions.
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