General: Lebanon: Continued demonstrations call for comprehensive reform
Demonstrations continue in Lebanon as protesters demand comprehensive change, the eradication of corruption, and the reform of the political system.
According to reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) from reliable local sources, on 18 and 19 January 2020 in the capital Beirut, Lebanese anti-riot police used rubber bullets directly against protesters at close range, as well as violently hitting them with batons, and used tear gas intensively, resulting in injuries amongst dozens of peaceful protesters.
The Lawyers Committee for the Defense of the Demonstrators stated on its Facebook page that, as a result of the demonstrations on 19 January 2020 in downtown Beirut, it documented the arrest of 43 protesters and demonstrators, including two minors and at least two people with special needs, who were all released. In addition, more than 100 injured demonstrators were admitted to hospitals, including some of them with serious injuries in the head and face, after being targeted by the anti-riot police with excessive force, including beatings, the use of tear gas, and the unlawful use of rubber bullets.
On 21 January 2020, the formation of the new Lebanese government headed by Hassan Diab was announced in Beirut. Despite this, the demonstrations continued in the following days. On 22 January 2020, 13 protesters were arrested in central Beirut. All were released with the exception of one of them. Nine protesters were also arrested in Joub Jannine, a village in the Western Beqaa district in the Beqaa Governorate, and all of them were released later too.
The Lebanese Red Cross announced on its Twitter page that, "13 teams of the Lebanese Red Cross responded to the protests in downtown Beirut on the evening of 22 January. 14 people were taken to nearby hospitals and 72 were treated at the scene."
The protests began on 17 October 2019 in Beirut and other regions, after the previous government imposed additional fees on oil derivatives, as well as a tax of $6 per month on using the WhatsApp application, which the Minister of Communications was forced to cancel late on the same day.
Since October, students at all levels of study have participated in the protests which have continued in cities including Beirut. Several sit-ins were carried out in front of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education. Their demands for reforms in the education sector include: addressing political and financial corruption, renewing educational curricula that have not changed since 1998, reducing fees for private schools and universities, offering flexibility in terms and amounts of university’s instalment plan, securing university housing in Beirut for students from other cities, repairing old buildings at schools and universities that are close to falling down, holding democratic elections for student unions, and allowing student representatives to participate in the bodies that shape university policies.
On 29 October 2019, Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned from his post after two weeks of continuous protests where he said it came, "in response to the will of many Lebanese who took to the squares to demand change." Protesters across the country have met this resignation with celebrations and welcoming chants.
On 14 December 2019, 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 Beirut. Reliable local sources confirmed that a large number of riot police together with men in civilian clothes attacked the gathering of peaceful protesters and started chasing and beating them.
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.
On 19 December 2019, more than a month and a half after the resignation of the previous government, Hassan Diab, a sixty-year-old professor at the American University, was appointed by the Lebanese president to form the new government. Many Lebanese cities, especially the capital, witnessed widespread protests which cut off the main streets to protest this appointment. The demonstrators stated that they were objecting to the way in which he was chosen, according to old methods, which they rejected since the beginning of the protests, as it represents the policy of quotas and power-sharing between traditional forces and political parties.
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.
On the evening of 12 November 2019, protester Alaa Abu Fakhr was shot and killed by a Lebanese army officer in the town of Khalde, south of Beirut, after trying with a group of protesters to block a major road in the area and prevent a military vehicle from crossing it. He was among those who took to the streets to protest statements by Lebanese President Michel Aoun about the ongoing protests and broadcasted by various media outlets, in which he proposed the formation of a "techno-political" government.
GCHR condemns use of excessive force by the anti-riot police against peaceful demonstrators and calls on the authorities in Lebanon to work hard to stop the use of force against peaceful demonstrators and activists.
GCHR calls on the authorities in Lebanon to:
- Fulfill its international obligations in the field of human rights, in particular to respect the civil and human rights of all demonstrators in Lebanon;
- Conduct an independent, impartial, thorough and prompt investigation into all incidents of violence and the excessive use of force that have taken place against demonstrators and activists with the aim of disseminating the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
- Release all detainees, peaceful demonstrators and activists, immediately and without conditions; and
- Ensure that all human rights defenders and peaceful demonstrators in Lebanon who carry out their legitimate work in defense of human rights are able to operate without facing restrictions, including judicial harassment.