This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
Born and raised in Australia, 21-year-old Ahmed Allouche traveled to his parents' Lebanese village for a taste of cultural heritage. But when police mistook his friend’s insulin needles and calcium tablets for drug paraphernalia, he experienced the most harrowing ordeal of his life. The two young men were arrested and violently tortured over a five-day period that Ahmed describes as “the closest I’ve ever felt to death.”
Like many first generation migrants, Ahmed wanted to experience Lebanese culture as it was described to him throughout his childhood. The problem is that the place his parents left has itself moved on. Our parents often subconsciously suppress their memories of war and conflict, creating an unrealistic depiction of homeland that falls apart as soon as their children arrive.
With my own parents from Afghanistan, it's an issue I've faced too. So upon Ahmed's release and arrival back to Sydney, we got on the phone to discuss his experiences as an Australian with Lebanese parents, tortured in a Lebanese prison.
Ahmed Allouche greets his grandparents after his release in Lebanon.
We went for dinner with my cousin and a family friend. My friend is a diabetic so he takes insulin, and he has a broken leg. We travelled an hour to go out for dinner. From Tripoli to Beirut.
We had a nice dinner. We were heading back to my parents' village when we got pulled into a checkpoint and they immediately told us to get out of the car. They didn’t even ask for our names or anything, they just pulled us straight out. Then they asked for our ID. I had my Australian drivers license on me. So I showed them that and they went, “Pffft, he’s Australian.”
Not even a minute later they started frisking me—from top to bottom several times. They were getting frustrated because they couldn’t find anything on us. Then they went to the car and didn’t find anything, but in the trunk they found a black backpack with my family friend’s medicine in it. In the bag, there were insulin needles and calcium tablets. In the front zip of the bag were prescriptions for the medicine, because it’s pretty common to be pulled over on that road, so we made sure we took them with us just in case.
They immediately impounded the car and locked us in a cell at the [Madfoun] checkpoint. We were kept there all night. It was roughly 11:00AM the next morning when we started asking them why they were holding us. I yelled out to them like ten times, but the police just kept saying “Shut up! Stop Talking. You guys had drugs!”
We were like, “What do you mean? We don’t have drugs. We are positive we don’t have drugs!” But he wouldn’t listen to us, he just kept going, “Nah, you have drugs! You have drugs!”
We asked them if we could make a phone call, to warn our families, and the officer started getting aggressive. We got a bit nervous and shut our mouths. They started pushing us around and told us to shut up before we copped a slap to the mouth.
Around 11:30AM, they handcuffed us and blindfolded us. We were escorted to the back of an army truck. I was sliding down the bus, so I knew we were traveling uphill. The drive felt like it took a few hours and no one said anything.
Finally, they took off our blindfolds and put us in a jail cell with a few other inmates. We were in the Moukhabarat El Ebbe, which is a military intelligence prison where they keep foreigners. It smelled like shit everywhere; there was a hole in the ground that was a toilet. We were all stuck right next to it. The shit started to pile up. It stunk.
The jail that they held us in was for short term sentences. Prisoners were sent there for about a month, and some guys had been in there for two weeks without a shower and barely any food or water. We had no energy because we couldn’t sleep.
Most of the guys in our cell were Syrians. The officers said that they had crossed the border illegally and they didn’t have paperwork. But some of the guys in our cell had their paperwork with them and they showed me. The officers just wanted to be assholes.
Pretty soon afterwards they separated us. When I was on my own they came up to me and said, “Your cousin and your friend have both said you supplied the drugs and you had the drugs on you.”
I told him that was bullshit. Then they went to my cousin and family friend, and told them that I snitched on them. To try and catch us out they made us all paranoid. But we all knew it was bullshit so we just stuck to our word.
They handcuffed and blindfolded me. They threw me into a room and I could hear a young guy screaming. He was a Syrian kid. He was running out of breath because he was yelling so much. They were belting him and he just kept yelling and screaming. I was shocked. I froze up. They were saying the same thing to him, “Where did you get the drugs from, you dog!” and the sounds of them smacking his face. He said his teeth were hurting. He kept screaming, “I’m only a kid, I don’t know anything about drugs!”
After that, they pulled me into another cell and removed my blindfold. The officer asked, “What’s your name and your father's name?” So I told him: “I’m Ahmed Allouche and my father's name is Mahmoud Allouche.” Then he gently said, “Where did you get the drugs from? Or just tell me where you were partying last night?”
Before I could answer, he punched me straight in the nose. I said, “My friend, please, I don’t know what you're talking about!” Then they put a bag over my head and started pouring water on it. I felt like I was dying.
When it stopped I yelled for help. It was intense because I couldn’t brace myself. He just kept cracking me. I got hit repeatedly punched in the face. He kept punching me above the eye socket and side of my face. I was going numb.
They had a loaded pistol up against my skull and they kept cocking it back. That’s all I could hear, the gun being cocked back and them shoving it against my head. Over and over again. They kept clicking the gun. They pushed it right against my skull. I couldn’t stop shaking. I thought I was going to die at any second. I couldn’t sit still. I was trying to control my hands but they wouldn’t stop shaking.
Then I felt a hard crack at my ribs as one of the officers hit me with the back of his rifle. It was way too hard to be a fist, and it kept pounding me in the ribs. I couldn’t breathe. I was getting lightheaded. I started getting pistol whipped across the back of my head.
My friends could barely recognize me. I left the room with black eyes, a bloody nose, my lip was busted open, ribs were broken. They just left me in the cell. It was around 6:00PM. The cell they kept us in was tiny. It was about five meters [~16 feet] long and wide. And there were over 30 people in the cell. Everyone was standing up, crammed together. The hole in the door was like about as wide as a post box slit, and that was the only source of air we had. Everyone was sweating. I was getting nauseous. They didn’t give us any food or water. So we had been a few days without food or water. An hour later, an officer came up to the small opening with a loaf of bread. He started throwing small bits of bread through the hole, like he was feeding pigeons.
Another officer yelled at us to sit down. We politely told him we couldn’t sit down because we didn't have room. The officer started yelling, “Sit down or I'll spray every last one of you dogs!” We started pleading, “What do you mean? What do you mean?” Everyone started scrambling, they were all trying to sit down. I had three people sitting in my lap.
There was a 70-year-old Syrian man who couldn’t walk. The old man got beaten up pretty bad. The officers kept shoving him into walls, yelling at him to shut up, and slapping him on his forehead. I collected as much bread as I could for him off the ground and handed it to him. He started crying, he said, “Thank you so much, everyone is thinking of themselves. I couldn’t even get up to get my own bread.”
I didn’t have a watch, so we had to judge the time by the adhan [call to prayer]. So judging by the adhan, it was about 8:30 or 9:00PM. They escorted us from the small cell into a much larger cell. This unit was for sleeping; they had blankets on the floor. One blanket between two people. They gave us a piece of cake that was to be shared between two people. We gave our pieces of cake to my family friend because he’s a diabetic and he needed it. He was really struggling.
They put us in the cell to sleep. While we were asleep they started bashing the door and yelling. They said, “We want the Australian!” and they took me out by myself.
When they called me out of the cell, before they put a bag on my head I woke my cousin up and I said, “Listen man, tell my parents I’m sorry. I wasn’t perfect. I love them. They’ve done everything I would have wanted.” I was preparing myself for death and it broke me. This is the end, you know, I’m finished. I was scared. Every time I was alone, I thought they were going to kill me. I’ve still got lumps on the back of my head that give me shivers whenever I’m reminded of it.
At this stage they put me in a room. I begged them to call the Australian embassy. Then I asked them to just call my family so they knew where I am. The officer just looked at me and slapped me across the face. He said, “Why do you want to call the embassy?” He started laughing at me, and he goes, “What are you trying to do?” I said I needed to get out of this situation because I’ve done nothing wrong. This time he punched me straight in the face and started yelling, “You dog, you piece of Australian shit! You’re a junky! Take your drugs in Australia!” They kept my head in a bag and poured water on me.
Ten minutes later, an older man in a collared shirt walked in. He noticed my bloody nose and asked me about what had happened. I pleaded with him and told him that they were beating me. He assured me that they weren’t going to touch me anymore. He looked me in the eye and said your father says hello. He was a doctor who was in charge of finding us. When he told me that my father says hello, that made me cry. It broke me up. Because I was relieved that someone knew where we were. And they knew we weren’t dead. I really broke down. Because I wasn’t dead and he saw the proof. That gave me a lot of energy.
The next morning they put us in the back of a truck and took us to another jail. They signed us in. I told them I wanted to call the embassy again. But the officer at this jail said the same thing: “you aren’t entitled to a call.” So then the three of us were put in a cell. By this stage we had gone four days without any water or food. I think it was the fear or adrenaline that just kept us going.
He told us we were in the jail of the Batroun. The Batroun prison is an army jail. We weren’t allowed any basic services to keep clean, and we really needed a shower. On the fourth day, the doctor had got the word back to our village. One of the army guys brought us food from outside the jail, some chicken sandwiches.
At night, they brought someone to drug test us. We had never seen this doctor, he came into our cell and yelled at everyone to get up. He said, “Allouche, you first! the Australian one! I want you to piss in the cup.”
So I took the cup and turned around, he walked in front of me and flashed his torch on my penis. I said can you please give me privacy, and he said, “No! I want to see your dick, show me it!” I told him I needed privacy because I was embarrassed, and he said, “No, you can't do anything about it.” I was scared. I pissed in the cup while he watched and flashed his torch on my dick.
That night, my family was allowed to visit us in prison. My drug test came back negative. The calcium tablets came back negative, they didn’t detect any illicit drugs. My cousin and his family friend came back clean. The officers wrote a final report and gave us our stuff back.
As we were walking out, one of the officers grabbed me and said you won’t be allowed back in Lebanon. My grandma asked him why and he said I had to attend court because I had drugs on me. She told him my results came back negative and he just yelled at her and said I’m not allowed back. He said that their report stated that they'd found marijuana on us. They tried framing us, but luckily none of us cracked and gave in to their lies. We went back to the village and my family threw a big party for us, let off fireworks and everything.
Ahmed Allouche's homecoming party
When my grandma saw me she just bawled her eyes out. They were all crying. They were relieved we weren’t dead. Nobody could believe we were standing in front of them. They were convinced we were dead. They hadn’t slept for days either. Even in Australia, all my family would get together at my aunty's house and contact my family in Lebanon over Whatsapp for any updates.
When I got released, I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I could breathe. Breathing freedom. I had a smile on my face. Just walking out, and smelling the air after spending five days in darkness. Just seeing lights and people, that was really the greatest feeling. Instagram.
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