Viral video documenting abuse of workers in Lebanon is condemned

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Footage of the torture of 15 Syrian and Lebanese farm workers in the mountain community of Majdal Akoura sparked fury in Lebanon this week, becoming the latest example of ethnic and sectarian tensions simmering beneath the surface of the country.

The vivid video shows a group of half-clothed day laborers – some as young as 12 – with potatoes stuffed into their mouths while being beaten with electric cables and whipped on allegations of theft.

Four of the five suspected attackers have since been arrested – including the landowner who employed the workers and reportedly directed the torture, said victims’ lawyer Mohammad Al Baarini.

The employer filmed the beating and claimed the workers stole sunglasses and a watch. The video was later posted on social media as an apparent deterrent to would-be thieves.

It quickly went viral.

Mr Al Baarini said the abuse started as a result of a wage dispute. The 15 day laborers – three Lebanese citizens and 12 Syrians – were used as raisin pickers. The employer had reportedly avoided paying the workers their wages for days, eventually using the “stolen” items as an excuse not to do so.

The workers were collectively whipped, electrocuted and threatened for seven straight hours, Mr Al Baarini said The National.

He added that he would seek the maximum possible sentence for the crimes when prosecuted.

“We will not accept this type of inhumane abuse,” the attorney said, calling the case an “unacceptable isolated case.”

Residents of the predominantly Christian community of Majdal Al Akoura – where the video was filmed – were quick to denounce the attack, calling it against their values.

The predominantly Muslim community of Fnaidek, from which the Lebanese victims come, also called the act a “heinous crime” against workers who were merely “looking for a living”. Residents blocked a major thoroughfare in the area on Wednesday, calling for a swift investigation and accountability for the attackers.

Social media was quick to point out the employer’s affiliation with the Lebanese Armed Forces, a Christian political party and former militant group.

But the Lebanese armed forces also denounced the employer’s “reprehensible and deplorable conduct” and suspended his membership of the party, also calling for a speedy investigation.

Since 2019, Lebanon has been suffering from an ongoing economic meltdown that has left the population with resources and basic needs in short supply. About 80 percent of the country’s population has fallen into poverty.

The struggling nation is also home to some 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and resentment toward them is not uncommon.

Moreover, Lebanon continues to be ruled by sectarian ex-warlords, remnants of the country’s 15-year civil war. The political parties in the country are mostly sect-based and promote the protection of the interests of each individual denomination.

As various shortages and crises erupt – symptoms of economic collapse – many residents fear that Lebanon’s fragile sectarian balance is at a turning point.

The video drew widespread condemnation from politicians, security personnel, religious figures and community leaders, who quickly met in what Mr. Al Baarini described as an apparent attempt at damage control.

“People are afraid this will boil over or become a Christian-Muslim thing,” he said The National.

Updated June 24, 2022 6:11 p.m

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