2 Syrians 'disappeared' by Lebanon: HRW

BEIRUT (AA) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday accused Lebanese authorities of "disappearing" two Syrians five months ago, urging the country's police and judiciary to investigate the allegations and hold those responsible to account.

"[Lebanon's] General Security apparatus, the country's security agency in charge of foreigners' entry and residency, has refused to disclose what happened to the men – Osama Qaraqouz and Bassel Haydar – despite repeated requests for information from their relatives and HRW," the rights group said in a statement.

According to HRW, the families of the men in question "fear that General Security deported them back to Syria and into the custody of the Syrian government."

"General Security's concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the two men could amount to the crime of enforced disappearance," HRW said.

Nadim Houry, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, called on the Lebanese authorities to "come clean" on the two men's situation and whereabouts.

"Refusing to disclose their whereabouts denies the men basic protections and makes the Lebanese authorities complicit in any harm that comes to them," Houry said.

Haydar's brother told HRW that the Lebanese army had "arrested Haydar in Arsal in April" and that "a military court sentenced him to four months in prison in Lebanon for 'selling weapons' and 'illegal entry.'"

Haydar was transferred from Roumieh Prison to a General Security facility after finishing his prison sentence last Nov. 10, the brother told HRW, adding that his family had not heard from Haydar since.

Qaraqouz, for his part, arrested by Lebanese Military Intelligence last March 12, was later convicted by a military court of "transporting weapons" and referred to Roumieh prison, his wife told HRW.

He, too, was transferred to a General Security facility after serving out his sentence. His family has inquired about him at "every General Security department," but to no avail, his wife told HRW.

The General Security apparatus denied any knowledge of his whereabouts and has not provided any information about his release from custody.

"Under Article 3 of the Convention against Torture, which Lebanon ratified in 2000, Lebanon cannot send any person – including convicted criminals – to countries where the person could face a real risk of torture," HRW said in its report.

"Syrians at risk of detention upon return in Syria are at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment," the watchdog asserted.

The rights group said it had sent a letter to the director-general of General Security on Dec. 22 asking the agency for information about the two men's whereabouts.

HRW also "called General Security on Jan. 9 and 13 to inquire further about their cases, but was told both times that the agency had no comment."

Lebanese authorities could not be reached for comment on the HRW report.

Syria has been gripped by violence since the regime of President Bashar al-Assad launched a violent crackdown in response to anti-government protests in March 2011, triggering a conflict that has left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced almost half of the country's population.

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