General: Lebanon: Authorities must investigate use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators

23.12.19

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) calls on authorities in Lebanon to take immediate steps to ensure that peaceful protesters are able to exercise their right to freedom of assembly without fearing reprisals, including the use of violence. Recent attacks on protesters in Lebanon were accompanied by arrests and arbitrary detention, among other violations.

Protests in Lebanon have been mostly peaceful since the beginning of the protests on 17 October 2019 when up to a million people brought the country to a standstill after they took to the streets starting to protest tax hikes, government corruption and the failure of the government to deal with a long period of economic deterioration. The Prime Minister resigned on 29 October after protesters remained in the streets and recommended insufficient reforms. The protests continued across the country, with many people blocking the streets around the capital Beirut.

However, on 14 December, the protests turned violent when over 50 protesters and police officers were wounded after riot police fired excessive amounts of teargas, water from water cannons and rubber bullets at demonstrators gathered outside the parliament in the capital, Beirut. Reliable local sources confirmed that large number of riot police members together with men in civilian clothes attacked the gathering of peaceful protesters and started chasing and beating them.

On 15 December, Interior Minister Raya Al-Hassan promised a "rapid and transparent" investigation into the violence of the day before. She also suggested people should avoid protests for their own safety, due to confrontations with “infiltrators”. However, most people were injured at the hands of the parliamentary police and the riot police, as well as men in civilian clothes who also beat protesters with batons. The violence continued throughout the next two days to a lesser degree, but protesters were again attacked with teargas and batons by police. 

On 17 December, counter-protesters also attacked protest camps in North and South Lebanon, tearing down tents. In November, militants violently attacked protest camps in Beirut, Sour and Nabatiyeh.

Previously in November, dozens of protesters were arrested by both the military and civilian security forces across Lebanon, with some of them alleging torture and abuse. Protesters reported being tracked down on the street, arrested without a warrant and held in unknown locations with no access to a lawyer or their families. Two protesters said they were subject to mock executions at the hands of the military forces. 

GCHR calls on the authorities in Lebanon to:

  1. Guarantee the right to peaceful assembly without fear of attack or arrest, including demanding that security forcesrefrain from attacking peaceful protesters;
  2. Release all protesters who have been arrested solely for taking part in demonstrations; and
  3. Investigate and hold accountable security forces responsible for the undue use of lethal force against protesters, and the torture of protesters while in detention, including mock executions.