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HRW: Lebanon army has used excessive force against protesters

April 29, 2020 at 1:29 pm

Security measures during a protest against the economic conditions in Lebanon on 28 April 2020 [Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency]

The Lebanese Army used excessive force against protesters during demonstrations in the northern city of Tripoli yesterday, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released today.

The report terms the use of force against protesters, which resulted in the death of a 26-year-old man, “unjustifiably… excessive”.

Clashes broke out in Tripoli around 9pm after locals flouted government lockdown orders to protest the deteriorating living standards and economic conditions in the country.

Lebanon and Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch, Aya Majzoub, said: “Tripoli is one of the most impoverished cities in the country, and the Lebanese government has failed to guarantee people’s right of access to food and other basic necessities.”

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One-time case handouts promised by the government to help struggling families through the coronavirus lockdown have failed to materialise. While the currency, the Lebanese lira, has lost more than 50 per cent of its value in recent months, and prices of basic goods continue to rise.

In desperation on Monday evening, protesters in Tripoli vandalised banks, attacking glass facades with Molotov cocktails, set an empty army vehicle on fire, and threw stones and fireworks at the soldiers. The army responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and, in some cases, live ammunition.

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According to Majzoub:

The army’s unjustified use of lethal force has further enflamed the situation and cost the life of one young man who was demanding his rights.

In the aftermath of the clashes, as residents in Tripoli attended Fawaz Fouad Samman’s funeral, the army stoked public anger by publishing a video on the Lebanese Army Twitter page which asked protesters, “this is how you pay back?”. The move sparked widespread condemnation and ridicule on social media.

The video was later deleted, and the organisation released a statement expressing “regret” at the death of a protester. MEMO, however, was able to save a copy of the video before it was deleted.

The 30 second clip shows military personnel distributing aid and cash to those in need, followed by clips of clashes, and ending with pictures of injured personnel.

The HRW report has called for a transparent and thorough investigation into the death of Samman and called on the judiciary to prosecute any personnel who broke the law, including superior officers.

“The death of a protester should prompt the army to re-evaluate its security strategy and operations, as well as strengthen its accountability systems,” Majzoub says.