BEIRUT: Layal Kayaje’s story began three years ago with a Facebook post. For the 31-year-old Palestinian, voicing her opinions online triggered a horrific chain of events, upending her life. After putting up messages in support of Ahmad al-Assir, Kayaje was convicted of supporting the radical Salafist preacher. She was detained for five days in Rihanieh, where she was allegedly tortured and raped.
Two years following her detention, Kayaje’s life was devastated again when her story surfaced in media reports. Though her name was not published, Kayaje was apprehended by Army Intelligence in Sidon, and transferred to the Defense Ministry in Yarze, Mount Lebanon. There, she claims she was interrogated, unable to contact a lawyer, and ultimately forced to sign a statement retracting her allegations.
“They literally told me during the investigation that I had two choices. I either sign the confession voluntarily, or I sign it after being hit and violated. I wasn’t hit during my investigation, only threatened, and I didn’t want to give them this chance to do to me what they do to so many others there,” Kayaje recalled.
Military sources told The Daily Star that she lied about the allegations and stood by the sentence issued by the Military Tribunal. “She’s a liar, this never happened,” the source said. “If the military court found her to be lying, that’s what happened.”
This past June, she was convicted by the Military Tribunal of lying about her allegations. Abdel-Badie Akkoum, Kayaje’s lawyer, stressed how mentally taxing the trial was for his client.
“Appearing in front of the military court and recounting her story, even if it was a secret court, was akin to torture. She was very uncomfortable and felt abused after testifying in front of all these men,” he said, full of contempt.
Forced to relive her trauma, Kayaje was sentenced last Monday to a month in prison by the Military Tribunal in Beirut.
Akkoum, having expected the punishment to be much more severe, expressed relief regarding the sentence. “She could have gotten three years, so it’s fine that she only got one month and no fine.”
Kayaje stressed that the punishment defied all logic, though ultimately she said she was not surprised. “Why was I sentenced to a month in prison? Anyways, I wasn’t expecting a happy ending out of all this.”
Akkoum claims that Kayaje’s case reflects a corrupt Army and enabling judiciary. “There are legal norms that state that the judiciary should always be a neutral party. Unfortunately that is not the case here in Lebanon, the Army is always sacred and beyond reproach, while for civilians it is the opposite. There was never an investigation and that should not be the case.”
Saadedine Shatila, head of the Lebanese branch of the Alkamara Foundation, worked closely with Kayaje and her lawyer. Agreeing with Akkoum, Shatila asserted, “This is a perfect example of how the military court works. Rather than responding to her allegations with an investigation, they immediately detained her and accused her of defamation.”
Both Akkoum and Shatila point to an issue with extrajudicial procedures in detention centers run by the military. In the case of Kayaje, they criticize how she was detained and allegedly denied access to a lawyer.
Prisons, on the other hand, are run by the Internal Security Forces. Unlike the Army, they are open to NGOs, civil society and families of detainees. In June 2015, the International Committee of the Red Cross joined forces with the ISF to rehabilitate seven prisons in Lebanon.
Tarek Wheibi, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Lebanon, pointed out that the “ICRC has a very bilateral and confidential relationship with ISF. This is the way we guarantee our access and neutrality, but it also allows us to be present all the time which makes a huge difference.”
Discussing the relationship ICRC maintains with inmates, Wheibi added, “We have the right to interview detainees without being monitored. They can tell us what their concerns are and if they are subject to ill treatment.”
For matters of national security however, Shatila said that the military keeps its doors shut, rendering it nearly impossible to investigate allegations of rape and abuse.