Lebanon: Peaceful protests in Beirut met with massive repression by authorities


Geneva – Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties (GCRL) observes the ongoing developments in Lebanon with great concern amid the outbreak of large protests against Lebanon’s ruling class after the devastating explosion in Beirut port. The protests were met by authorities massive repression and the use of excessive force.

On Saturday 8/8/2020, thousands of protesters have gathered in central Beirut in a large peaceful demonstration protesting against Lebanon’s ruling class, after the deadly blast in Beirut port, which led to thousands of deaths and injuries, as well as the widespread destruction of homes, facilities, and infrastructure.

According to Geneva Council, protesters and army soldiers reportedly clashed by Beirut’s main ring road near the city centre amid use of excessive force by the police to disperse the protesters, including the use of rubber bullets, sticks, and tear gas. It was also reported that dozens of demonstrators were dragged, assaulted, beaten with sticks and rifle butts,while others were arrested.

Peaceful protesters hit back with stones topolice attacks and set up symbolic nooses at Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square to hang politicians who must be held accountable. Authorities reported that one policeman was killed in the Beirut clashes.

GCRL voice concerns over information concerning the participation of pro-government civilian elements in attacking protesters and trying to thwart their demonstrations.

The protests follows what was described as the biggest explosion in the history of Lebanon, which shook the port of Beirut on Tuesday evening 8/4/2020, and has killed so far 158 people and more than 6 thousand wounded, according to Lebanon’s health minister. Initial reports blamed the explosion on a major fire at a warehouse near the port which the authorities said contained about 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, an extremely explosive materials that had been confiscated and stored since 2014.

This is the second time, in less than a year, that Lebanon has witnessed major anti government demonstrations which were also met with massive repression. In October 2019, protests erupted against the Lebanese government, during which the security forces used excessive force as well as criminal defamation charges, which constituted a violation of the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties affirms that peaceful assembly is a right guaranteed by international conventions, and that the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters in Lebanon is a flagrant violation of human rights and United Nations law enforcement standards.

The Council also considers  the security forces’ resorting to the use of bullets and various ammunition violates the “basic principles on the use of force and firearms,” ​​which include that any use of force by law enforcement forces must be proportional, the level of force applied must reflect the totality of circumstances surrounding the situation at hand, including the nature and immediacy of any threats posed to officers and others and only if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result.

In this regard, GCRL calls on the Lebanese authorities to :

● Ensure the protection of protesters and respect their right to freedom of assembly and expression without coercion or intimidation.
● Guarantee the right of all groups to demonstrate peacefully, without resorting to violence by infiltrating protests to thwart them.
● Open a prompt and impartial investigation into the repression of the demonstrators and to ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable.
● Immediately release all those arrested for their peaceful protests or for expressing their views on political developments in the country.
● To address the worsening crisis affecting the country and fueling popular anger, including conducting a credible investigation into Beirut port explosion, publicly announcing its finding, and holding those responsible accountable for their corruption and negligence.

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