Tens of thousands of protesters all over the world were on the streets at the weekend in support of the people of Lebanon and their anti-government demonstrations. From London to Washington DC, the Lebanese and their supporters came together in support of the demand for government resignations and structural change. The internal grievances that led to the demonstrations were catalysed by the Lebanese government’s inability to solve the crisis over the disposal of rubbish in the country, prompting the worldwide “You Stink!” campaign.
The streets of Beirut were crowded with families while events and stalls conjured up a festival-like atmosphere at the demonstration. Some banners were demanding the downfall of the regime; some called for increased accountability and transparency; and yet others expressed contempt at the lack of action and incompetence shown by the state over the past three decades. Various humorous and artistic approaches were taken to resistance against the government system which, although built on sectarian lines, has actually managed to unite people of all backgrounds due to its incompetence. Snap parliamentary elections have been called for and there is a demand for the interior minister to be held accountable for excessive force by the police, which has been reported widely during the protests.
The organisers of the “You stink!” campaign have given the government until Tuesday to meet citizens’ demands. They promised Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government a “surprise” if it doesn’t, reported Lebanon’s Daily Star.
One demand is the resignation of Environment Minister Mohammad Al-Mashnuk. He announced earlier this week, and has repeated several times since, that he has no intention of giving up his duties, although many would argue that he has already done so, judging by his consideration of outsourcing responsibilities for Lebanon’s growing rubbish mountain to a private company. The charges quoted by private waste management companies were too high for the government so the cabinet failed to reach an agreement on the issue last Tuesday at a meeting from which the Hezbollah and Christian Maronite representatives walked dejectedly.
In response to the ongoing demonstrations, Lebanon’s security forces have used water cannons, tear gas, live ammunition, batons and rubber bullets against protesters; hundreds of ordinary people have been injured. Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), Nadim Houry, called on the Lebanese authorities to take immediate measures to ensure that there is no repeat of the violence used against protestors in downtown Beirut three days ago. Despite his pleas, the police were beating both men and women and using water cannons and violence to disperse the crowds in the city’s Riad Al-Solh square last night, making several arrests in the process. HRW urged the government to hold the perpetrators of violent attacks accountable.
Last week, Lebanon’s state prosecutor, Samir Hammoud, tasked Judge Sakr Sakr, who has jurisdiction over crimes committed by the security forces, to investigate the violence. Critics contend that such an investigation should be more independent, effective and transparent.
“Lebanon has an unfortunate habit of opening investigations into violence by security forces but never concluding them,” claimed HRW’s Houry. “The judiciary needs to show that it can rise to the occasion and hold accountable those responsible for excessive violence.”
HRW has documented three cases where protesters have been wounded by security personnel firing rubber bullets at close range; the resultant injuries required hospital treatment. Many protesters have experienced breathing problems as a result of the tear gas used by police. One female activist helping to organise the protests said that a police officer beat her on the head.
The Skeyes Centre for Media and Cultural Freedom documented nine cases of violent attacks against journalists on 22 and 23 August, and identifi9ed most of the attackers as security personnel. Nada Andraos, a journalist from local LBC TV, told HRW that members of the security forces hit her and her photographer with a stick and sprayed them with a hose. Beating journalists covering a protest is unlawful and an indefensible attack on press freedom.
“It’s long overdue for Lebanon to get serious about holding its security forces accountable,” Houry explained. “The authorities need to deliver on their promises of effective investigations and accountability, or the laws that are supposed to protect the Lebanese people from abuses and ensure respect for basic rights will have no deterrent effect.”
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