LONDON - Deaths in prisons run by the Lebanese Ministry of Interior "nearly doubled" in 2022, in comparison to pre-crisis levels in 2018, Amnesty International revealed on Wednesday.
According to Amnesty, overcrowding, governmental neglect and a lack of adequate healthcare are likely behind the increase in deaths, with an increase of 18 deaths in 2018 compared to 34 in 2022.
"The sharp increase in custodial deaths must be a wake-up call to the Lebanese government that their prisons need urgent and drastic reform," Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.
The organisation pointed to a lack of "basic healthcare" in Lebanese prisons, as well as officials minimising prisoners' symptoms and denying them timely care as contributing to the increase in deaths.
Lebanon has been mired in a devastating economic crisis since the fall of 2019 when its banking sector collapsed due to rampant corruption.
The national currency has lost 98 per cent of its value since the start of the crisis and over two-thirds of the previously upper-middle-income country’s population had been plunged into poverty.
Lebanon's detainee population has also grown dramatically during the crisis, with prisons at 323 per cent of their intended capacity, with 80 per cent of prisoners held in pre-trial detention.
Much of the growth in the incarcerated population is due to non-functioning public ministries and a judiciary, both of which strike frequently due to poor pay and working conditions.
The Ministry of Interior has said that it does not have the resources to cope with the influx of prisoners.
Due primarily to currency depreciation, the Ministry’s budget has decreased in real terms from US$7.3 million in 2018 to US$628,000 in 2022.
Rights groups have also noted a steep decline in conditions, pointing to substandard food and medicine in prisons.
Despite the challenging conditions, Amnesty International said that the government is still responsible for ensuring adequate care for prisoners and promptly investigating deaths.
"The economic crisis is no excuse for prison authorities to deny prisoners access to medication, shift the cost of paying for hospitalisation to the families of prisoners or delay prisoners' transfers to hospitals," Majzoub said.
Families of prisoners told Amnesty International that prison officials had "dismissed the complaints and symptoms of those detainees prior to their death."
Families were also told by authorities that they would have to cover the cost of their relatives' medical care, contrary to Lebanese law.
Only 107 prisoners were hospitalised in 2022 versus 846 in 2018, despite the ballooning prison population.
The delay in treatment caused their conditions to worsen and potentially contributed to their deaths.
The Ministry of Interior gave no explanations as to the causes of the deaths in custody reported in Amnesty International's investigation.