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.  

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.

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.

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 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.”

Severe Electricity Cuts Hit Hard

Widespread electricity blackouts all over Lebanon in the past week have caused many businesses to close temporarily and affected food supply and heating. Blackouts have jeopardized the health and safety of older people and young children, who are particularly vulnerable to the cold weather and rely on equipment such as elevators, residents told Human Rights Watch.

Lebanon has not had round the clock electricity for decades. However, this week people have experienced drastic electricity cuts. Some Beirut residents told Human Rights Watch they had as little as one hour of electricity per day.

An Electricite du Liban (EDL) source told Human Rights Watch that in addition to limited state subsidies and increasing oil prices, increased rationing was compounded by delays in obtaining credit lines to purchase fuel and gas as well as a storm which prevented fuel ships from docking and disconnected some power plants from the grid.

Many in Lebanon resort to expensive private generators to fill the gaps. However, poorer residents are unable to afford the hefty generator fees, which can amount to $200 per month.

“They have taken us back decades to a life by candlelight,” an employee at a mobile accessories shop said.

Earlier this week, temperatures in Beirut dropped to 10 degrees Celsius. “We are freezing while sitting at home, in the dark,” a young unemployed man said. “Everything in the freezer and refrigerator went bad. We were left without food.”

A 72-year-old widow told Human Rights Watch that the recent electricity shortages have made her life “hellish.”

“I want to go up to my apartment on the 8th floor now. An old woman like me, I need to climb up 8 flights of stairs. I don’t know what to say about this country. It is depressing…I have a gas heater. But when the gas canister runs out, what can I do? I ask if someone can take it up 8 flights of stairs for me for 5,000 or 10,000 pounds (3.33 – 6.67 USD), but no one agrees. When the gas runs out, I have to go to bed and stay under the covers…I am very angry on the inside. Because everything is acceptable but electricity is a red line.”

On January 9, EDL announced that an incoming fuel oil vessel docked and began unloading fuel, and that power plants affected by the storm are being reconnected. The caretaker Energy Minister stated that EDL will supply between 16 – 21 hours of electricity in Beirut and 8 – 10 hours outside Beirut until February – a decrease from previous supply levels.

Protesters have been demonstrating in front of EDL branches and power plants across the country. On January 8, the army clashed with protesters who tried to storm into Tripoli’s Qadisha Electricity Company. Media reported that the protesters threw stones at the soldiers, who then fired tear gas to disperse them.

Cybercrimes Bureau Interrogates Prominent Activist

On January 7, the Internal Security Force’s Cybercrimes Bureau interrogated prominent activist and journalist, Nidal Ayoub, after another journalist filed a complaint against her. The charges against Ayoub included insulting the president, insulting God, and undermining the prestige of the state.

Ayoub told Human Rights Watch that the charge of undermining the prestige of the state was brought against her due to her chants supporting refugee rights, which she said indicated to the complainant that she preferred refugees to Lebanese citizens. She also said that her calls for an end to a “patriarchal regime” were interpreted as insults to the president.

Ayoub has been a leading figure in the protest movement, and her chants calling for women’s rights, refugee rights, and an end to discrimination have been shared widely.

Ayoub had previously filed a defamation lawsuit against the complainant for claiming in a video that Ayoub was a foreign agent. Ayoub said she received threats and was put at risk as a result. Yet, the prosecution has not taken any action in relation to her complaint.

Previous Human Rights Watch research found that prosecutors are applying Lebanon’s criminal defamation laws selectively in ways that further the interests of powerful political and religious actors. The selective nature of the prosecutions indicate that such interrogations are attempts to silence prominent, outspoken critics rather than provide genuine redress where someone felt that their reputation had been unfairly damaged.

Interview With Nidal Ayoub

Human Rights Watch Interviews Nidal Ayoub

 

 

Hospitals Raise Alarm Over Financial Crisis

The head of the Syndicate of Private Hospitals, Sleiman Haroun, raised the alarm about the inability of hospitals to provide urgent healthcare amid the government’s failure to pay hospitals their dues. Haroun told local media on January 5 that the hospitals have been unable to perform many surgeries due to their inability to pay for medical supplies and spare parts for medical equipment. He said that the government has not paid private hospitals a “single pound” of the dues owed to them in 2019. Haroun also warned that private hospitals will not be able to pay their employees at the end of this month.

Lebanese doctors chant slogans as they take part in anti-government demonstrations in central Beirut on November 12, 2019. 

© 2019 AFP/Getty

The government owes private hospitals an estimated $1.3 billion in dues since 2011. On November 16, private hospitals carried out an unprecedented “warning strike” to sound the alarm about the shortages they were facing and to urge government officials to pay their arrears.

Human Rights Watch issued a press release on December 10 underscoring the impact of the financial crisis on the right to health, urging the Finance Ministry to urgently disburse funds owed to hospitals, and the Central Bank to develop clear and cohesive regulations for businesses, especially importers of vital goods, to ensure that they are able to continue operations.