The Coalition to Defend Freedom of Expression in Lebanon Demands Investigation into the Assault on the Freedoms Protest
Beirut, October 10, 2023
The ‘Coalition to Defend Freedom of Expression in Lebanon’ calls on Lebanese judicial authorities to conduct a serious investigation into the assault on protesters and journalists in downtown Beirut on Saturday, September 30, 2023.
As Lebanon grapples with a dark economic, security, and political trajectory, Lebanese authorities are increasingly suppressing dissenting voices. In recent months, attacks on freedom of expression, assembly, protest, and freedom of press, have escalated at an unprecedented rate.
The latest of these attacks occurred on Saturday, September 30, when several human rights and political groups organized a peaceful protest in Riad Al-Solh Square, in downtown Beirut, against increased violations of freedoms. However, the peaceful gathering turned into a violent assault against protesters and journalists who were covering the event.
According to testimonies and footage of the protest documented by coalition members, dozens of young men on motorcycles,armed with sticks, surrounded the protesters and journalists, threatening, insulting, and physically assaulting them. Individuals attempting to reach or leave the protest area were also attacked, ensuing in two individuals being hospitalized as a result of their injuries. Journalists were targeted specifically while covering the event. These attacks occurred in the presence of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), who appear not to have taken adequate measures to protect the protesters and journalists, who were not seen using violence against the men who attacked them. The attack continued for more than three hours until the army intervened to secure the evacuation of protestors in security vehicles.
This assault appears to have been intentional and premeditated, as it was preceded by a campaign of incitement against the protest, vilification of its organizers and participants, led by public and religious figures.. This campaign falsely claimed that the protest aimed to “promote deviancy,” referring to the promotion of homosexuality, despite the fact that the protest did not raise any demands related to the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals in Lebanon.
This assault constituted an attack on civil rights by a violent group and a violation of constitutional and international human rights protections, including the exercise of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and protest guaranteed under Article 13 of the Lebanese Constitution, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Lebanon ratified in 1972.
Despite the perpetrators openly boasting about their attack on social media and their identities being revealed, the Lebanese judicial authorities appear to have not taken the necessary action to hold them accountable. This failure appears to represent a blatant violation of their responsibility and duty to protect citizens and their constitutional right to exercise public freedoms. Furthermore, none of the relevant ministries, public prosecution offices, or the Internal Security Forces have issued any explanatory statements regarding the assault. Members of the coalition communicated with Internal Security Forces but did not receive any response.
It is worth noting that there has been a recent emergence of civilian groups physically assaulting people in public spaces, including attacks on cafes in Mar Mikhael (Beirut) in August and Sour (South Lebanon) in September, which remain unchecked. This violence and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators reflects the erosion of the rule of law in the country, whereby violent actors may control access to public spaces, in light of government inaction.
In light of the above, the “Coalition” affirms the following:
- The ‘Coalition’ calls on Lebanese judicial authorities to conduct a serious and swift investigation into the assault on protesters and journalists on Saturday, September 30, 2023, in downtown Beirut, including the responsibility of the Internal Security Forces. The Coalition holds the Public Prosecutors at the Court of Cassation and the Court of Appeal of Beirut, as well as the first investigation judge in Beirut, responsible for opening an investigation.
- The ‘Coalition’ calls on the Lebanese authorities to condemn the assaults against the press, human rights defenders and protestors exercising their legal rights , especially in light of the officials’ silence regarding the violations of constitutional freedoms and their failure to hold the perpetrators accountable. The coalition also calls on security forces to protect protestors exercising their legal rights.
- The ‘Coalition’ condemns the official and unofficial discourse aimed at eroding constitutional freedoms, their exercise, and their defense, particularly through the use of homophobic arguments. The coalition confirms that the ongoing campaigns to incite against and suppress constitutional freedoms, targeting anyone who raises a dissenting voice or expresses differences, fundamentally aims to keep criticism and accountability away from the political authorities that caused the country’s collapse and continues to refuse to put it on the path to recovery.
- The Legal Agenda
- Alternative Press Syndicate
- Lebanese Center for Human Rights
- Maharat Foundation
- Seeds For Legal Initiatives
- MENA for Human Rights
- Samir Kassir Foundation
- Amnesty International
- Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections
- Human Rights Watch