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Lebanon’s revolution: Protecting the right to peaceful protest

23/12/2019
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Due to the present unusual circumstances, AZM University had dedicated the entire fall 2019 semester to the Popular Uprising, and in line with this commitment, Dr. Omar Nachabe , Director of AZM Center for Criminal Justice and Security Sector Reform, hosted attorney Ms. Diala Chehade in a discussion around the Lebanese Revolution from a legal perspective.

Ms. Chehade gave a general overview about the protest in Lebanon that sprang on October17, 2019. She stated that the country has been witnessing a massive wave of unprecedented nationwide protests, which are deemed to mark a new era in its history.
She explained that the freedom to participate to peaceful assembly is an inalienable right, and Lebanon has a positive obligation to protect and facilitate the right to freedom of assembly, rather than impose unnecessary or disproportionate limits on it. Being state party to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and within the Lebanese Constitution, Lebanon enshrines the right and enjoyment of this freedom.
However, despite the guarantees of freedom of expression, Article 384 of the penal code punishes with imprisonment individuals from six months to two years for insulting the president, flag, or national emblem, which obviously silences any criticism or opposition.
Dr. Chehade stated that since the beginning of the protests in Lebanon, several human rights violations occurred against protesters, including the use of excessive force, tear gas, arbitrary detention and arrests. The protests across Lebanon have been overwhelmingly peaceful and the response from army and security forces has been largely restrained. However, documented incidents witnessed excessive use of force, including in one incident, the use of live ammunition against peaceful protesters.
“The Lebanese authorities must take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of peaceful protesters, respect their right to freedom of assembly, including the legitimate blocking of roads, and refrain from trying to forcefully disperse peaceful assemblies,” Ms. Diala Chehade said about the nationwide anti-government protests.
She explained that Authorities must immediately end the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters and authorities must respect the right of protesters to freedom of peaceful assembly and investigate the excessive use of tear gas as well as the beatings and harassment at gunpoint of protesters that took place.
She added that isolated incidents of property damage do not warrant such excessive use of tear gas against an overwhelmingly peaceful protest; and nothing can justify beating protesters. The intention was clearly to prevent protesters gathering – in a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly.
With so many people demonstrating in the streets across the country, the priority of the authorities should be oriented on reducing tensions and allow all who wish to peacefully express to do so safely and without fear of reprisal. Ms. Chehade explained that “Lebanese protesters are making their voices heard in a peaceful manner and the authorities have an obligation to uphold and protect this right, which can include the blocking of roads. Heavy-handed policing or violent dispersal will only increase tensions and provoke hostility, which could lead to a dangerous turn in what has so far largely been a peaceful wave of protests.”
She concluded that it is impossible to protect the human right to life and security, the right to work, the right to equality before the law, the right not to be discriminated against, the prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and a host of other rights, without protecting the right of individuals and groups to express their rejection of an existing Government that does not respect their fundamental rights.

Dr. Nachabe moderated a Q&A discussion session, pinpointing measures and obligations that authorities in Lebanon should respect in particular to:

  • Fulfill its international obligations to protect freedoms of assembly and expression, by allowing demonstrators to peacefully assemble without fear of repression or arrest, and to ensure that the media operate freely and that access to the Internet is not prohibited;
  • Ensure that excessive force is not used, whether by security forces or other individuals, against peaceful demonstrators;
  • Refrain from arresting peaceful demonstrators in reprisal for their actions; and
  • Ensure that all human rights defenders in Lebanon who carry out their legitimate work in the defense of human rights are able to operate without restrictions, including judicial harassment.
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