General: Lebanon: Security forces use excessive violence to end protests in Tripoli; and publisher assassinated

04.02.21

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is alarmed at reports of excessive violence used by security forces against protesters in Lebanon, including those seeking economic assistance as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, in addition to justice for the Beirut Port blasts. GCHR is further alarmed at the targeted assassination of a well-known publisher and activist.

After the Lebanese government's decision to extend the general closure period until 08 February 2021, protests have been held in the city of Tripoli since the night of 25 January 2021 against the heavy restrictions imposed due to the increase of Covid-19 cases in the country. The demonstrations continued for several days, during which demonstrators expressed their suffering from the repercussions of the comprehensive closure and the deterioration of their living conditions, including unemployment, marginalisation, lack of medicines, fuel, materials, and basic services, as well as the absence of any budget or efforts to secure the basic necessities for citizens in this difficult period.

The protest area in Tripoli was surrounded by several security services, including riot control teams and the strike force of the Information Branch and the army, which used excessive violence against protesters to prevent them from entering the government palace (the headquarters of the Northern Governorate) in the city.

In addition to targeting protesters with rubber bullets and live ammunition, the security services used tear gas bombs and water cannons to disperse protesters.

More than 220 demonstrators were wounded, and two were killed, namely Omar Tiba and Oussama Ghemrawi.

Some protesters reportedly threw small stones during their protest, but the excessive force that was used to suppress them is not equivalent and cannot be justified under the pretext of the security forces defending themselves.

During these protests, the Tripoli municipality building was burned on the night of 29 January 2021, which led some top politicians to issue statements full of hatred, accusations of treason, and incitement. They insisted that they should be permitted to carry weapons in self-defence, after the security forces alleged that protesters used bombs.

At least 17 people were arrested by the army intelligence who raided the homes of protesters, and violated their rights, including the rights guaranteed by Article 47 of the Criminal Procedures to have a lawyer present during the investigations and to contact their families, reported the Lawyers Committee to Defend the Protesters.

A number of protesters in the capital, Beirut, gathered in front of the homes of the members of parliament from Tripoli to object to the bloody events in that city. Five people were arrested by the security forces, and four of them were released, while one of them was kept in detention until 01 February 2021.

In other news, GCHR received reports that on 01 February 2021, when a number of families of the victims of the Beirut Port explosion staged a sit-in in front of the house of the investigating judge Fadi Sawan, they were attacked by security forces.

In another separate incident, on 04 February 2021, writer, publisher, and political activist Lokman Slim was found dead in his car after being shot with four bullets in his head and one in the back. He was killed in the Addousiyyah area while returning from the town of Niha in southern Lebanon.

Born in 1962, Slim studied philosophy at the Sorbonne University in 1982 and returned to Beirut in 1988. In 1990 he founded the Al-Jadid Publishing House, which published Arabic literature and books of various topics. In 2001, he moved into cinema and founded “Nations for Documentation and Research” which has produced several films. He has authored several books and translations, including “Onsi Al-Hajj, a Poet and a Lebanese” with others in the year 2000.

GCHR believes that the manner in which some officials in the Lebanese authority have dealt with the Tripoli protests, including by trying to pass them off as issues related to extremism and terrorism, is a clear attempt to distract from their demands for their most basic civil and human rights. Attacks on protesters in Tripoli and Beirut is a continuation of a systematic path of repression since October 2019, and it is time for the Lebanese authorities to choose a more rational path forward.

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights urges the Lebanese government to:

  1. Refrain from using violence, including lethal force, against peaceful protesters and demonstrators;
  2. Protect the civil and human rights of citizens, foremost among which is freedom of assembly and peaceful protest;
  3. Find an effective plan to address the living and economic situation of all groups of Lebanese society and respect their right to health, education and a decent life; and
  4. Carry out an independent, impartial and thorough investigation into the murder of Lokman Slim, and bring those responsible to justice.