Lebanon’s overcrowded prison may be courting COVID-19 health disaster

Lebanon’s overcrowded prison may be courting COVID-19 health disaster
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Inmates produce protective face masks, to be used by security members and inmates themselves as part of the preventive measures against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), inside Roumieh prison, Lebanon, in this handout picture received by Reuters on April 6, 2020. (REUTERS)
Lebanon’s overcrowded prison may be courting COVID-19 health disaster
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The Roumieh Prison, located east of Beirut, houses more than 5,500 prisoners and has a separate juvenile section. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 14 September 2020

Lebanon’s overcrowded prison may be courting COVID-19 health disaster

Lebanon’s overcrowded prison may be courting COVID-19 health disaster
  • Inmates’ families panic over reports about spread of coronavirus in Roumieh Prison, organize protests

BEIRUT: Reports about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Roumieh Prison, the largest in Lebanon, have caused panic among the families of inmates who fear disaster if quick measures are not taken.

Several guards and inmates are reported to have contracted the virus. Lebanon’s prisons already suffer from severe overcrowding, running at 160 percent of capacity at the end of 2019.

Roumieh, located east of Beirut, houses more than 5,500 prisoners and has a separate juvenile section.

The prison was opened in 1970 with a capacity of about 1,500 prisoners, but the number has grown over the years, making social distancing impossible. The possibility of granting a general amnesty to all inmates is currently under discussion.

Lawyer Ghida Franjieh said: “The judiciary ordered the release of many detainees since the announcement of the general mobilization to avoid crowding in detention facilities.”

She added that parliamentary intervention would be required to ensure the release of those convicted of minor crimes.

“There are many questions that need answers: Were the infections discovered in the early stages?” she added. “Were the infected people isolated immediately?”

“The increase of overcrowding could lead to a health disaster in Roumieh Prison that may cross prison boundaries if the internal security forces and the judiciary do not take all necessary measures to protect infected prisoners and those in contact with them, especially since many prisoners suffer from weak immunity due to poor living conditions and health.”

Many prisoners have complained of fatigue, high temperatures, coughing, shortness of breath, sore throats, loss of smell, and other symptoms. The prison pharmacy has run out of painkillers and fever remedies, according to reports.

Health Minister Hamad Hassan confirmed that there had been COVID-19 cases in Roumieh, but said infections were chiefly “among the security forces in the prison” and that “a very limited number of infections were reported among the prisoners.

“We are working to secure a hospital in Bekaa and another in Beirut to treat the detainees,” he added.

The General Directorate of the Internal Security Forces stated: “Thirteen prisoners and nine security personnel tested positive for the virus on Sept. 11, and a place for quarantine has been prepared in the central prison, in cooperation with the International Red Cross and the World Health Organization (WHO), and sections have been allocated in government hospitals for necessary treatment.”

Families of many detainees in Roumieh organized a protest in Tripoli, calling for necessary measures for the protection of prisoners and to prevent the spread of the virus among them.

The total number of people infected with COVID-19 in Lebanon has reached 24,000, as the daily number of infections has exceeded 500 since mid-August. The total number of deaths as of Sunday was 239.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe has also been infected with the virus. His ministry’s employees were subjected to PCR tests last week, and it was found that three people who had contact with the minister were also infected.

Tripoli MP Faisal Karami expressed his concern over the spread of the virus, with only 26 beds to treat COVID-19 patients in his home city, with people having to wait for six days to take tests.

Karami revealed that the residents of Tripoli and its municipality “do not yet believe in the existence of the virus, and people do not adhere to the preventive measures.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Andrea Tenente, said 90 peacekeepers had contracted the virus.

“Eighty-eight of them belong to the same unit. They have been kept in quarantine and all precautions are being taken to prevent the spread of the virus among the peacekeepers,” he said.

“UNIFIL is taking very strict precautionary measures with all its military and civilian elements inside and outside their centers, by following all approved protocols, including quarantine and isolation, in line with the guidelines of the WHO and the Lebanese government. With regard to our employees, we have reviewed the roles of all.”

He said all UNIFIL activities related to implementing its mandate in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701 remain unaffected.

 

 


Iran kicks off ground forces drill on coast of Gulf of Oman

Iran kicks off ground forces drill on coast of Gulf of Oman
Updated 19 January 2021

Iran kicks off ground forces drill on coast of Gulf of Oman

Iran kicks off ground forces drill on coast of Gulf of Oman
  • Commando units and airborne infantry were participating in the annual exercise along with air assets

TEHRAN: Iran’s military kicked off a ground forces drill on Tuesday along the coast of the Gulf of Oman, state TV reported, the latest in a series of snap exercises that the country is holding amid escalating tensions over its nuclear program and Washington’s pressure campaign against Tehran.
According to the report, commando units and airborne infantry were participating in the annual exercise, along with fighter jets, helicopters and military transport aircraft. Iran’s National Army chief Abdolrahim Mousavi was overseeing the drill.
Iran has recently stepped up military drills as part of an effort to pressure President-elect Joe Biden over the nuclear deal that President Donald Trump pulled out of. Biden has said the US could rejoin the multinational accord meant to contain Iran’s nuclear program.
On Saturday, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard conducted a drill, launching anti-warship ballistic missiles at a simulated target at a distance of some 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) in the Indian Ocean, a day after the Guard’s aerospace division launched surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and drones against “hypothetical enemy bases” in the country’s vast central desert.
Last Thursday, Iran’s navy fired cruise missiles as part of a naval drill in the Gulf of Oman, under surveillance of what appeared to be a US nuclear submarine. Earlier last week, the Guard’s affiliated forces carried out a limited maneuver in the Arabian Gulf after a massive, drones-only drill across half of the country earlier in January.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased amid a series of incidents stemming from Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers. In the final days of the Trump administration, Tehran seized a South Korean oil tanker and begun enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels, while the US sent B-52 bombers, the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and a nuclear submarine into the region.
Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Trump cited Iran’s ballistic missile program among other issues in withdrawing from the accord.
When the US then stepped up economic sanctions, Iran gradually abandoned the limits that the deal had imposed on its nuclear development.