The incident occurred in Lebanon’s Akoura village, the victims’ lawyer Mohamad Al-Barini told US-funded Arabic news service Al-Hurra at the Al-Abdah police station.
Syrian and Lebanese workers – including minors – who picked cherries for landowner Charbel T were beaten, electrocuted and humiliated by Charbel and others, after being accused of stealing from him, Al-Barini said.
“The young men worked on Charbel's land for several days, and when they finished… they were surprised that he accused them of stealing his sunglasses and a sum of one million Lebanese pounds, even though they did not have a car or anything to hide [the allegedly stolen belongings] in,” Al Barini said.
“He [Charbel] and others began to torture them inside a room in the vineyard, in an attempt to avoid paying their wages… he beat, flogged and electrocuted [them] after throwing water on their bodies… a potato was put in the mouths of each of them,” Al Baraini added.
The victims’ lawyer said there were 14 cherry pickers in total, three of whom were Lebanese and 11 of whom were Syrian.
He said army intelligence services visited the scene, where the land owner and four of the young Syrian men were taken for questioning and later released.
“A person claimed to the Akoura police station that a number of his employees stole one hundred million Lebanese pounds… the complaint was transferred to the… judicial police unit for a follow up” a statement issued on Wednesday by Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces read, giving a different amount to the one million reported by Al-Barini.
“After videos showing beatings against a group of these workers circulated, an investigation was immediately opened by the police station… the investigation is ongoing,” the statement added.
The municipalty of Fnaydek – where some of the workers are from – described the incident as a “heinous crime that deserves the most severe punishment”.
Human rights groups also expressed their outrage at the "horrific" scene.
“Time and time again, we have seen horrific videos surface of vulnerable workers being abused by their employers in Lebanon. Yet, even in the face of credible evidence, we have often seen security forces either overlook these incidents,” Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch told The New Arab.
“Holding this employer accountable for his actions, in a way that is commensurate with the gravity of the crimes committed, will send a clear a clear message to other employers that such abuse is not tolerated and will result in serious sanctions,” Maizoub added.