Page last updated at 11:24 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 12:24 UK

Village mob lynching raises questions for Lebanon

The killing of a murder suspect in a Lebanese mountain village has led some to question whether the incident reveals a dark side in their society, as Natalia Antelava explains.

Rana
Thousands of people gathered for the funeral of Rana's children and parents

Rana knelt in front of a freshly dug grave.

She did not cry or wail, she just rocked back and forth, her eyes focused on flowers piled up in front of her.

"It's my fault. I could not protect you," she whispered.

A week earlier, Rana, who is a school teacher, returned from work to find her house covered in blood.

First she saw the mutilated bodies of her elderly parents, then she found her daughters, nine-year-old Zeina and seven-year-old Mony, both dead.

This was the most brutal murder in living memory in Ketermaya, Rana's sleepy home village in the Chouf Mountains, south of Beirut

But it was not the crime, it was the punishment that shocked the rest of Lebanon.

Mob lynching

Hours after the murder, police arrested the prime suspect, Rana's neighbor, an Egyptian man who was a village butcher.

Mohammed Muslem already had a criminal record and, according to the police, after a night in custody, he confessed to killing Rana's family.

The next morning, as thousands of villagers gathered for the funeral, a police car carrying the butcher and six policemen appeared in the streets.

The crowd stopped the car and dragged Mohammed Muslem out. He was severely beaten, but police got him back and even managed to take him to the local hospital.

Ketermaya residents at the scence of a lynching on 29/4/2010
Ketermaya residents watched as the body was hung in the square

The mob followed. They snatched him and brought him back onto the streets. By then, villagers say, the policemen were all gone.

The crowd chanted, as they watched a group of young men stab the butcher to death. His body, stripped down to his underpants, was tied to the front of a car and paraded through the streets.

Once they reached the centre of the village, the young men raised the body and hung it from a meat hook. The crowd jeered.

Clear and detailed mobile footage of the lynching went online almost immediately.

Soon, thousands of Lebanese were watching, in shock, how their fellow countrymen had killed the man and with him - some say - Lebanon's reputation for being the most progressive, most liberal country in the Arab world.

Soul-searching

"They killed an innocent man, a man who was not proven guilty by a court of law, who never had an opportunity to defend himself," Omar Nashabe, a well known criminal justice expert told me.

A map of Lebanon showing the capital Beirut and Ketermaya

Omar, like many others here, wants the government to explain why the police failed to provide adequate protection to the suspect in their custody.

Should they have taken the butcher back to the crime scene in the first place?

And who tipped off the crowd and leaked the information about Muslem's alleged confession?

Several youths who participated in the lynching have now been arrested - a sign, Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar told me - that the government was taking this seriously.

One young man told me he thought the policemen brought him back because they wanted justice too

Mr Najjar also said that the Interior Ministry had already investigated the actions of the police and taken the necessary measures.

He would not elaborate although some sources say these measures consisted of a 10-day suspension of two policemen. Nobody has been sacked, no-one has resigned.

In Ketermaya, one young man told me he thought the policemen brought him back because they wanted justice too.

We were talking outside a shop decorated with gruesome pictures of Rana's murdered children.

Next to them, the villagers had hung a statement: "We would like to thank the authorities for allowing justice to take place," it read.

"Why are you all focusing on the lynching, look what he did to innocent children," the man said.

Soon others joined in. All young men, all of them agitated, nervous and extremely defensive about what happened.

"It's not our fault, it's the police," they kept repeating.

Testing justice

"We are all responsible," a friend back in Beirut told me.

"This crime," he said, "is a product of our society. A sign that something is deeply wrong.

"What happened there is putting Lebanon's entire justice system to the test."

But the man in charge of it disagrees.

Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar told me this was an unfortunate but still an isolated case, which had nothing to do with the problems of the Lebanese justice system.

"After such a savage crime people were angry. This could have happened in any country," he said. I dared to argue.

"When was the last time you heard of police delivering a murder suspect to an angry mob?" I asked?

He did not seem to have an answer.

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SEE ALSO
Lebanon mob lynching 'barbaric'
30 Apr 10 |  Middle East
Arrests over Lebanon mob lynching
07 May 10 |  Middle East
Country profile: Lebanon
13 Jul 11 |  Country profiles


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