Talking to beaten and detained journalist Rami Aysha
On August 30, the Lebanese-Palestinian journalist Rami Aysha was arrested in Beirut’s southern suburbs, after which he was beaten and jailed without charge for almost a month. As NOW Lebanon previously reported, Aysha’s case became something of a cause célèbre, with one press freedom watchdog describing it as the worst violation of its kind in the country for over two years. Following his release last week, NOW spoke with Aysha, who vows to continue his work despite the brutal treatment to which he was subjected.
Firstly, let’s go back to the day you were arrested. Where were you, what were you doing, and what happened?
Rami Aysha: I was near the airport road, by Al Saha restaurant. I don’t agree with the word “arrested” because only the Lebanese authorities can arrest me. The horrifying thing was I was kidnapped by people on a motorcycle amid a traffic jam. They pressed a gun to my back, blindfolded me and abducted me without anyone interfering to prevent them.
For the first three hours I was brutally tortured – they hit me with sticks and guns, placed blades against my throat, and broke my finger. One of them asked me which hand I write with. I lied, telling him “the left,” and then they started hitting it.
Some said it was Hezbollah that arrested you, others such as Al Manar and New TV said it was the army mukhabarrat (“intelligence”). Which is true?
Aysha: I cannot accuse anyone because I don’t know who they were and they didn’t identify themselves. However, I can say it wasn’t the army intelligence. I was handed to them only after three hours.
Tell us about how you were treated after that.
Aysha: At the end of the three hours, still blindfolded, I was pushed against a wall. I thought this was the end, and I started praying. Then, out of nowhere, an army intelligence member came in and said “Don’t worry, I’m army intelligence and I’ll get you out of here,” and asked me to run along a path. I was relieved because he was an official and I was in the hands of the government. Even so, on our way out we were swore at and hit by the others while this man tried to protect me. A belt blow on the back of my head still hurts now.
When I arrived at the army intelligence I was again beaten, though they later apologized and handed me to the military police. I was cuffed, blindfolded, hungry and thirsty from the moment of my detention on Thursday till Saturday night. I don’t blame the commanders in charge of the intelligence or the military police for the brutality, but I do blame their juniors.
There is a rumor that you are the journalist who carried out the famous interview for Time magazine with one of the four Hezbollah members indicted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Is this true?
Aysha: No, I didn’t do the interview and I don’t take credit for others’ efforts. Time magazine has confirmed this. I was even investigated by former General Prosecutor Judge Said Mirza and was proven to have no involvement.
We also heard that you have worked on several arms smuggling stories before. Can you give some examples of things you’ve investigated?
Aysha: I’ve worked on [Palestinian refugee] camps and many other topics before. I’m an investigative reporter and most of my work is on sensitive issues.
Have you been mistreated while working on stories before?
Aysha: We are in Lebanon, not Europe. I have been harassed many times and even hit before, but this is the first time I was detained.
When you were in jail, your lawyer told us there were no plans to take legal action upon your release. However, you have since said you will “fight in court to prove [your] innocence.” What exactly do you plan to do?
Aysha: I will do my best to get my innocence proven, though the judges are trying to release me with a sufficiency period which in itself convicts me. I reject this move, and will take the issue to the court of cassation [the supreme court of Lebanon].
Will you continue to work as a journalist after all this?
Aysha: Definitely, I will continue my job and mission as a journalist. Let no one think I will stop journalism for a moment.
Agnes Helou contributed reporting.
This interview has been condensed and edited.