Lebanon's parliament agreed yesterday to a two-week state of emergency in Beirut giving the army new powers, ten days after a massive blast rocked the capital killing nearly 200 and injuring thousands more.
The order grants the army new sweeping powers to deal with the aftermath of the explosion but has prompted human rights groups to warn of a potential crackdown on protesters and activists.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) was quoted by Agence France Presse (AFP) as saying the order could serve "as a pretext to crack down on protests and snuff out the very legitimate grievances of a large segment of the Lebanese population".
Under the state of emergency, the Lebanese Army has the power to shut down assembly spaces, try civilians for security-related crimes in the military court and to set curfew hours, according to Legal Agenda, a Beirut-based legal monitor.
— Legal Agenda (@Legal_Agenda) August 12, 2020
The emergency state was first declared by then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab the day after the 4 August explosion and extended yesterday – a surprise move since even during the height of Lebanon's coronavirus lockdown, politicians resisted declaring a state of emergency, instead terming the alert a state of "general mobilisation".
The state of emergency comes only days after Diab's cabinet were forced to resign on Monday over anger at the widely held belief that government negligence had indirectly caused the explosion.
Documents unearthed in the aftermath of the explosion show Lebanese politicians, including President Michel Aoun and Diab, were aware 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive chemicals were stored in Beirut's port, in close proximity to the city.
According to a report by the General Directorate of State Security, a letter was sent privately to Aoun and Diab on 20 July warning of the security risk, but no action was taken.
The blast has led to renewed calls from international donors, including France, for the state to make much needed reforms in order to release aid, such as the $11 billion reform-conditional funds pledged at the 2018 CEDRE conference, which would help float the struggling economy.
Meanwhile, Lebanon's international partners have called for an independent investigation into the blasts, with the US' FBI set to join the probe to determine the cause of the explosion.