Lebanon: Stories of Women Behind Bars
By: Zeinab Merhi
Published Tuesday, January 1, 2013
In Lebanon’s Baabda prison for women, there is no shortage of appalling stories. From false imprisonment to domestic abuse, the women imprisoned share their accounts with Al-Akhbar.
Baabda Prison – It’s the lucky prisoners who are assigned to cell number two where Nicole resides and runs the show. The women she selected to share her cell and keep her company appreciate how privileged they are.
Nicole does not hesitate to list the acts of kindness she has bestowed on her cellmates: “I bought them this air conditioner, the carpet on the floor, paid for bathroom repairs – I spent nearly $2000 to fix up this place.”
She has been behind bars for four and half years now, “falsely accused” – she insists – of killing her husband. Nicole says that he had collapsed before her one day; they rushed him to the hospital and he died there.
The laboratory results revealed that there were traces of a poisonous substance in his urine, which Nicole maintains was fabricated. She adds that her inlaws accused her of murdering her husband to deprive her of the inheritance.
A Life of Abuse
It is notable that many of the women detained in Baabda prison are serving time for killing their husbands. In most cases, those who murdered their spouse were suffering from domestic abuse, according to prison director Christian Abu Nahed.
Nuha Faten, a pseudonym, is one such example. One of the guards says that she’s been crying like a baby ever since she was brought in.
The 24-year-old woman – the eldest of nine children – was studying to become a nurse when she met her husband. She had no interest in marriage, but he insisted and eventually convinced her parents.
She says her husband banned her from continuing her studies so her life became miserable as she woke up night after night to beatings. One night, she could not bear it any more and beat and stabbed him with a knife.
My Name is “Khalas”
A woman calls herself “Khalas,” meaning “the end” in Arabic, indicating to us that she considers her life to be over. It ended at the young age of 16 when her family married her off to a man she says was psychologically unstable. He spent his days torturing her. At the age of 19, she was put in prison, accused of killing her husband.
Like many other prisoners, she had to wait several years before she was even sentenced. Having served nearly eight years, the 28-year-old still has another ten to serve behind bars.
Fury overwhelms Khalas when she talks about the “corrupt judges” that put her in prison. Many of the prisoners agree with her, noting that they were unjustly punished simply because they were poor. If you have political or financial support, they say, you are untouchable.
Afaf is Innocent
Afaf was declared innocent of killing her cousin after spending four and half years in prison. She does not know how she will deal with her release, for prison has completely changed her.
Before prison, she was married and worked as a private tutor. Now she’s divorced and has no idea how to support herself and her son. She says prison has made her a worse person and forever took away her ability to live with dignity.
“I entered this place a relatively decent person,” she explains. “In prison, I got free lessons in drugs, theft and killing, and nothing else. Now that I have been released, I have to watch what I say after repeating foul language on a daily basis.”
Samiha is 52 and she is serving a ten year sentence after being implicated in five drug cases. She admits to being involved in two of them – “they stuck me with the other three,” she maintains.
Two years into her sentence, her son was badly injured in an accident and went into a coma. Samiha escaped along with four other prisoners, using their sheets to scale down the prison building.
She took refuge in Turkey where she stayed for two years. After receiving news that her daughter was arrested on drug charges, she decided to return to Lebanon to stand by her side. Afaf is now back in prison serving out her sentence, still insisting that given the chance, she will escape again.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.