Protests and repression
Last Updated: 22 September 2020
On 17 October 2019, the Lebanese cabinet announced new tax measures to address an economic crisis. In response, tens of thousands of peaceful protesters took to the streets across the country calling for their social and economic rights, for accountability, an end to corruption, and the resignation of all political representatives.
Although the cabinet resigned, many of the ruling figures who have dominated the Lebanese political scene for decades remained in power. In January 2020, a new cabinet was appointed, with little change to address the population’s demands, and the protests continued.
On 4 August, an explosion at the port of Beirut killed at least 190 people, injured more than 6,500, and left an around 300,000 people homeless. The blast was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored unsafely in a warehouse.
This tragic event, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, financial crisis, and political crisis, reignited the October protests on 8 August with calls for accountability and justice. The street pressure resulted in the resignation of the cabinet for the second time since the beginning of the protests.
The largely peaceful protests since October 2019 have been met by the Lebanese military and security forces with beatings, teargas, rubber bullets, and at times live ammunition and pellets.
Instead of meeting its basic responsibilities towards the thousands of people left homeless and impacted by the blasts, the state seems to be on the attack against its population.Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International
Excessive use of force
The protests across Lebanon have been overwhelmingly peaceful. The response from the army and security forces however has been fluctuated across regions and moments. Amnesty International has documented patterns of excessive use of force, including the unlawful use of teargas canisters and beating protesters.
In the most violent episode since the protests began, the Lebanese army and security forces, as well as unidentified men in civilian clothes, shot at unarmed crowds during protests in Beirut that took place in the days following the Beirut explosion. More than 230 people were injured, with some being injured by pellets shot in their eyes. Teargas cannisters were shot directly into crowds injuring protesters in their heads and faces, and targeting doctors who were treating the injured.
I saw him aiming at me while I threw stones and said don’t shoot! I’ll stop throwing the stones… but he shot me four times in the stomachMohammed al-Abdallah, protester shot in the stomach in Beddawi
In the earlier days of the protests on 26 October 2019, the army opened fire against dozens of protesters staging a sit-in the Beddawi area of Tripoli in north Lebanon. Soldiers attempting to clear a road began to beat the protesters who responded by throwing stones at them. The soldiers then opened fire using live ammunition seriously wounding at least two protesters.
To date, there have been no transparent investigations into the excessive use of force nor remedy to victims.
Amnesty International launched an interactive, multimedia site, Teargas: An investigation, looking into what tear gas is, how it is used and documenting scores of cases of its misuse by security forces worldwide, often resulting in severe injuries or death.
Violations by the Authorities
Punishing the Movement
Crackdown on freedom of expression
Lebanese authorities have been relentlessly harassing journalists and activists visible during the October protest movement, by repeatedly summoning and interrogating them on the basis of problematic defamation laws, in a manner that could cause a chilling effect on the wider movement and on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
Between 17 October 2019 and 24 June 2020, Amnesty International reviewed 75 cases of individuals who were summoned, including 20 journalists, based on charges of defamation in relation to social media posts criticizing the authorities. A range of military and security institutions have been responsible for these, despite the fact that none of these are mandated to look into matters of free speech. Individuals were threatened with prosecution and pressured into deleting the social media posts and/or signing illegal pledges to stop criticizing, organizing or protesting. Some of these individuals have themselves in turn pressed charges, including claims of torture – but the judiciary has to date failed to open any investigations into such claims.
Arbitrary Arrests and Torture
Military and security forces arrests hundreds of peaceful protesters across Lebanon, including Sour, Jal el Dib, Zouk, Beirut, and Beddawi. Amnesty International has documented a number of violations, including arrests without warrant, severe beatings, insults and humiliation, blindfolding and forced confessions. Four people in Beddawi were unlawfully detained for six days by the military before being released. Their whereabouts were unknown and they were denied access to their lawyers and family, amounting to possible enforced disappearance under international law. Two people told the organization that they had been subjected to mock executions. In the rare cases where a minority of protesters were involved in vandalism, security forces responded disproportionately, including by arresting a number of peaceful protesters.