The Lebanese army used excessive force, including live fire, to disperse protests in northern Lebanon, seriously injuring at least two people according to eyewitness testimony and analysis of verified video footage, Amnesty International said today.
In the single most violent episode since the mass protests began, the army opened fire against dozens of protesters staging a sit-in the Beddawi area of Tripoli on 26 October. At least two protesters suffered gunshot wounds. The Lebanese armed forces also violently dispersed protests in Saida and Abdeh and army and other security forces failed to intervene effectively to protect demonstrators in Beirut from violent attacks by supporters of political groups over the past week.
“The Lebanese army’s excessive use of force in Beddawi, as well as the security forces’ failure to protect peaceful protesters, are deeply worrying and must be immediately investigated in an independent, impartial and transparent manner,” said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International.
“Holding perpetrators to account must be an urgent priority. The authorities must adopt a zero-tolerance stance to any excessive use of force against peaceful protesters. Failing to do so would send a dangerous message to security forces that they have free rein to commit abuses without facing justice.”
Live ammunition against protesters
During the incident on 26 October soldiers from the army and army’s intelligence branch first began to beat protesters using sticks and rifle butts, in an attempt to open the Beddawi road that had been blocked by protesters. The protesters responded by throwing rocks at the soldiers, prompting the army to open fire with live ammunition and tear gas grenades. At least two people were wounded.
Medical records seen by Amnesty International confirm that protester Mohammed al-Abdallah was hospitalized after being shot in the stomach. He described to the organization how the soldier opened fire even though he was standing six or seven metres away from him: “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 stomach,” he said. The fact that no one has been held accountable has made him feel he is being treated “as if I’m nothing”, he added.
The attack began after protesters who were singing and sitting on the ground refused army demands to clear the road.
One eyewitness said: “They ran towards us and began beating us, trampling on all of us, beating us with sticks, when several injured lay on the ground… the protesters started throwing stones at the army… so they opened fire.”
At least four people were unlawfully detained for five days by the military before being released. During that time, they were denied access to their lawyers and family, who were not told their whereabouts. Such detention may amount to the crime of enforced disappearance under international law.
One of the protesters who was shot in the back was transferred from northern Lebanon to Geitawi hospital in Beirut for emergency surgery, according to his brother, who told Amnesty International he has lost the use of his lower limbs.
The Lebanese army said in a statement athat soldiers attempting to clear the road in Beddawi came under attack from protesters who threw stones and large firecrackers at them causing five injuries in their ranks and prompting them to respond with tear gas and later to shoot rubber bullets and live fire into the air causing a number of injuries. The statement also said the army has opened an investigation into the incident.
Amnesty International has also documented the excessive use of force to disperse protesters in two other locations. In the northern town of Abdeh, the army attacked a group of peaceful protesters who were blocking the roads on 30 October.
“The army forces started advancing in our direction and we kept chanting silmiyyeh [peaceful] and then they started kicking us with their boots and hitting us with their batons… then they started firing rubber bullets and throwing more tear gas at us. Many protesters fainted. They kept on hitting us. There were women and children with us,” said Omar Nasser Hazeem, adding that the protesters had been peaceful but some began to throw stones when they were attacked.
In the southern city of Saida, more than 100 protesters who had blocked the main highway were forcefully dispersed in the early hours of 28 October. One eyewitness said more than 26 vehicles arrived on the scene. Witnesses described how army, intelligence and state security forces attacked protesters beating them with batons and stamping on them with their boots. At least three people were hospitalized for their injuries.
Failure to adequately protect protesters
Amnesty International also documented how Lebanese security forces failed to effectively intervene to protect peaceful protesters who came under attack by supporters of Amal and Hezbollah at the Ring Highway in Beirut on 29 October. The attackers armed with sticks beat and chased demonstrators and set fire to their tents.
Eyewitnesses said the Internal Security Forces (ISF) present on the scene tried to protect protesters but were vastly outnumbered by around up to 300 “thugs” who attacked the demonstrators.
One witness described scenes of “chaos” as hundreds of attackers armed with sticks and stones began attacking the protesters.
Another demonstrator said: “They were moving in an organized way to terrorize the protesters. They clearly outnumbered the ISF… I find it very strange that there were only around 50 ISF at such a critical time”.
Several witnesses said ISF failed to arrest any of the attackers.
“Security forces have a clear obligation to protect peaceful protesters from harassment, intimidation or violent attacks, and must ensure they take the necessary steps so as to be able to intervene in an adequate manner to stop such attacks in the future and ensure the protection of peaceful protesters,” said Lynn Maalouf.