Lebanon Protests

Lebanon has seen mass anti-government demonstrations since October 17, 2019, when the government announced a slew of new taxes. The countrywide protests devolved into expressions of anger against the entire political establishment, whom protesters blame for the country’s dire economic crisis. State security forces at times used excessive force against demonstrators and failed to protect them from violent counter-protesters. The economic crisis and an irresponsible fiscal policy threatens people’s  access to health care and food, and has driven many families into poverty. Vulnerable groups, including refugees and migrant workers, have been particularly hard hit by the economic crisis.  

Security Forces Clash with Protesters Ahead of Parliament Session

Security forces, including riot police, parliament police and army special forces, clashed with protesters who were attempting to block entrances to parliament in downtown Beirut ahead of a parliamentary session to discuss the 2020 budget. Videos circulating on social media showed security forces launching tear gas, firing rubber bullets, and beating protesters at several entrances, including near Riad al-Solh, near the Le Grey hotel, and near Fransabank on Bab Idriss street.

Sunniva Rose, a journalist covering the events, told Human Rights Watch that she observed some protesters throwing rocks and water bottles at security forces near the Le Grey hotel. She said riot police advanced towards protesters, beating some and firing tear gas to disperse them. Rose said that she saw a young man with blood all over his face, apparently after security forces beat him.

A witness near the parliament entrance at Riad al-Solh told Human Rights Watch that he saw security forces firing rubber bullets without warning from behind the barricades that they had set up after a few protesters tried to kick down a metal barrier. He saw one bullet hit a woman standing nearby in the leg, causing her to fall to the ground screaming in pain.

The Lebanese Red Cross stated that as of 1 p.m., it had transported 8 people to nearby hospitals and treated 19 injured at the scene. The Lawyers’ Committee for the Defense of Protesters said that 11 protesters were arrested during today’s scuffles outside parliament, and that some protesters alleged that riot police beat them during the arrest. The committee stated that four detainees were released shortly after their arrest and went to hospitals for treatment.

Kareem Chehayeb, a local journalist and researcher, told Human Rights Watch that protesters tried to obstruct the session because they believe that the 2020 budget, which had been drafted and agreed upon by the government of the former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in October, needs to be revised, given the drastic changes in the economic situation. Several political parties, arguing that the session was unconstitutional, boycotted the session, saying the new government should have first won a vote of confidence in parliament.

Parliamentarians passed the 2020 budget after a secret vote, three months into mass protests demanding accountability and greater transparency in decision-making.

Ziad Itani Files for Compensation for Torture

Ziad Itani, a well-known actor who described to Human Rights Watch his forced disappearance and torture in detention at the hands of State Security in November 2017, filed a request for compensation to the Council of Ministers on January 8, 2019. Itani requested 500 million Lebanese pounds (333,333 USD) as compensation for the serious harm he sustained at the hands of the public administrations, security agencies, and the judiciary. 

Ziad Itani

© Private

Itani was falsely accused of spying for Israel. He said that he was held for six days in what appeared to be an unofficial detention site where men in civilian clothing, who he believes were State Security officers, tortured him and subjected him to other forms of ill-treatment until he signed a confession. He was held in pretrial detention for more than three months, until the military investigative judge closed the case against him on May 29, 2018and charged two people with falsely accusing him.

Details of Itani’s interrogation and the accusations against him leaked to the media within a day of his arrest, and Itani described the leak as “the biggest form of torture I’ve seen in my life. They took my phone as I sat in my cell and read the news and my friends’ Facebook posts about me. I lost hope.… The psychological torture and words they used were more horrible than the physical torture.”

On November 20, 2018, Itani filed a civil lawsuit with the State Prosecutor’s Office against the people accused of framing him and the State Security officials who conducted the preliminary investigation, who he claims tortured him. On November 28, 2018, State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud referred his complaint to the military prosecutor on the grounds that the complaint is directed against security officers. After his first hearing on April 12, 2019, the military prosecution decided to return the case to the civilian judiciary. Since then, Itani said, there has been no progress on his case.

Lebanon’s 2017 anti-torture law criminalizes torture and includes special procedures for investigating allegations of torture. It also provides for rehabilitation and compensation for victims, though it does not include details or guidance for carrying out those provisions.

Under international law, victims of torture have the right to redress, including an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation and full rehabilitation.

Human Rights Watch has for years documented credible reports of torture in Lebanon. Lebanese authorities have failed to properly investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment by security services, and accountability for torture in detention remains elusive.

Prime Minister Forms A New Cabinet

Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the formation of a new cabinet on January 21, almost one month after he was appointed to the post. The 20-member cabinet, which includes six female ministers, was backed by political parties allied with Hezbollah.

Speaking shortly after the presidential palace announced the cabinet, Diab said that "this is a government that represents the aspirations of the demonstrators who have been mobilized nationwide for more than three months." He promised that the new government will tackle some core protester demands, including the independence of the judiciary and the return of funds stolen from Lebanese state coffers, and it will fight illicit enrichment, protect low-income families, fight unemployment, and work to endorse a new electoral law.

Thousands of protesters quickly took to the streets and blocked major highways across the country to reject the new cabinet, saying the members have clear connections to established political parties. Hundreds gathered in front of the entrance to Parliament in downtown Beirut. Some threw rocks and projectiles at the riot police blocking the entrance, and a few tried to storm the barricades.

Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters and, for the first time since the protests began in October, used a chemical spray against protesters trying to remove the barriers blocking the entrance to parliament. The riot police also sprayed an Associated Press photographer who was covering the protests. Protesters who came in contact with the spray described a burning sensation. The Internal Security Forces tweeted that the spray was a common riot dispersal method used in other countries and claimed its effects were temporary.

Protesters gathered in downtown Beirut again today, and clashes between rock-throwing protesters and security forces began around 5 p.m.

Brutal Crackdown on Protesters

Lebanon’s riot police used excessive force against largely peaceful protesters in downtown Beirut on January 18, 2020, in the most brutal crackdown since the nationwide anti-government protests began on October 17.

There was no justification for the brutal use of force unleashed by Lebanon’s riot police against largely peaceful demonstrators in downtown Beirut on January 18. Riot police showed a blatant disregard for their human rights obligations, instead launching teargas canisters at protesters’ heads, firing rubber bullets in their eyes and attacking people at hospitals and a mosque. Last night’s events showed the urgent need for authorities to end this culture of impunity for police abuse.

Michael Page

Deputy Middle East Director, Human Rights Watch

The riot police used water cannons and launched huge quantities of teargas to disperse protesters, some of whom were throwing projectiles and fireworks at the police, and hurling teargas canisters back at them. The riot police also launched teargas canisters directly at protesters instead of above the crowds, causing serious injuries as canisters struck protesters on the head. They also launched tear gas inside the Mohammad al-Amine mosque, where women, children, and the injured had taken refuge from the violence. The riot police fired rubber bullets at protesters, some of whom were running away. At least one protester was blinded when a rubber bullet hit his right eye. Local media reported that riot police beat and arbitrarily arrested injured protesters as they were being discharged from hospitals.

The Lebanese Red Cross said it treated 140 people hurt at the scene and transported 169 to nearby hospitals during the clashes on January 18 – the highest number of injuries since the protests began. The Lawyers’ Committee for the Defense of Protesters said security forces arrested at least 38 protesters.


Police Use Violence Against Protesters

Lebanon’s riot police beat and violently arrested largely peaceful protesters and media workers during demonstrations on January 15, 2020. Hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the El-Helou police station in Beirut to demand the release of 57 protesters arrested during protests the previous night, some of whom had thrown water bottles and firecrackers at officers.

At around 9:15 p.m., the Internal Security Force’s riot police charged onto the crowds, firing large amounts of teargas at protesters, beating some severely, and violently arresting at least 55. Riot police also beat at least eight media workers covering the protests and briefly detained three.

Riot police arrest a protester outside a police station in Beirut, Lebanon on Wednesday, January 15, 2020.

© 2020 AP Photo/Hussein Malla

Interior Minister Raya el-Hassan tweeted that she condemned the attacks on journalists and stated that accountability proceedings were already under way. She said that while the attacks are not justified, riot police were tired after being on full alert for three months. The Internal Security Forces chief also issued an apology to journalists “for what happened to them as they covered protests on Wednesday.”

“The unacceptable level of violence against overwhelmingly peaceful protesters on January 15 calls for a swift independent and transparent investigation,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The vicious riot police attack on media workers doing their jobs is an egregious violation of security force obligations to abide by human rights standards.

Read Human Rights Watch’s full statement here.

65 Arrested During Central Bank Protests

Lebanese Riot Police clashed with protesters outside the Central Bank in Beirut on Tuesday night. The Riot Police fired tear gas at protesters, some of whom were throwing rocks and fireworks at them. Videos emerged showing security forces beating protesters. Local media also reported that security forces fired live rounds into the air.

Protesters, chanting that they were angry at the deteriorating economic situation and informal capital controls imposed by the banks, smashed bank fronts and ATM machines and set garbage dumpsters on fire on Hamra Street, where the Central Bank is located.

The Civil Defense reported that it transported 25 people to the hospital and treated 20 at the scene during the Hamra clashes. The Internal Security Forces stated that 47 were injured from their ranks.

The Lawyers' Committee for the Defense of Protesters told Human Rights Watch that security forces arrested 65 protesters during the Central Bank protests in Hamra. Three protesters were detained at the Ramlet el Bayda police station and released hours later. As of noon Beirut time on January 15, five protesters remain detained at the Ras Beirut police station, and 57 remain detained at the El-Helou police station.

According to the Lawyers’ Committee for the Defense of Protesters, security forces also arrested two women on the Ring Road in central Beirut. The reasons for their arrest are unknown. They were taken to the Gemmayze police station and released shortly after.

Scuffles Erupt as Protestors Mark Beginning of ‘Week of Rage’

Lebanese demonstrators have returned to the streets en masse today, January 14, marking the beginning of a “week of rage” to protest the delay in the formation of an independent technocratic government that can address the deteriorating economic conditions.

Protesters filled major squares across the country and marched down highways and blocked major roads with burning tires and garbage. Protesters blocked the Beirut – Tripoli motorway, one the country’s busiest highways connecting the capital with several northern cities in Jdeideh, Zalka, Jal El Dib, Jounieh, and Jbeil. Protesters also blocked the Beirut – Saida highway.

In Beirut, protesters blocked busy intersections at the Ring road in central Beirut, Madina al-Riyadiyya, Corniche el Mazraa, and Furn el Chebbek.

Videos circulated by protesters show scuffles in several areas across the country with security forces, who attempted to reopen the roads. Videos circulating on social media appear to show the Lebanese army using rubber bullets to disperse protesters blocking Bahsas, the southern entrance to Tripoli, this morning. Human Rights Watch could not independently verify the video.

Activists have also reported that security forces arrested at least two protesters at the Ring Road in central Beirut.

Freedom of peaceful assembly, a fundamental right, should be enjoyed without restriction to the greatest extent possible. The UN expert on free assembly has stated that “the free flow of traffic should not automatically take precedence over freedom of peaceful assembly.” Two other UN experts have concluded that “assemblies are an equally legitimate use of public space as commercial activity or the movement of vehicles and pedestrian traffic,” and “a certain level of disruption to ordinary life caused by assemblies, including disruption of traffic, annoyance, and even harm to commercial activities, must be tolerated if the right is not to be deprived of substance.”