Lebanon Uprising Protesters Eagerly Await Military Court Trials | New

Beirut, Lebanon – The anti-government uprising that swept through Lebanon two years ago may be a distant memory for many in the country, struggling with aggravating economic crises that have paralyzed much of public life, but this is not the case for the dozens of protesters who are currently awaiting trial in military courts.

More than 200 people – including six minors – who were arrested and released during the protests were summoned several months later to the military courts, accused of having committed acts of violence against the security forces, according to the organization. Legal Agenda monitoring. Most of them have yet to be tried.

Among the detainees was Alexander Paulikevich. The 39-year-old dancer was speaking to a policeman during a demonstration in January 2020 at the central bank in the capital, Beirut, when five other policemen dragged him by the hair and beat him. They arrested him and took him away overnight, alongside two other protesters.

“When they questioned me, they wanted me to confess that I had sprayed paint on one of their superiors,” Paulikevich told Al Jazeera.

Alexandre Paulikevich during a demonstration in Beirut [Courtesy of Alexandre Paulikevitch]

In September 2020, the dancer received a call from the Lebanese military asking him to have a “cup of coffee,” a term commonly used by security agencies when summoning someone for questioning. His house had been destroyed in the deadly explosion in the port of Beirut the previous month that had devastated much of the capital.

“I said, ‘You’re kidding! Military court? ‘ Paulikevich remembers. “I lost my house in the explosion, I lost my money and I can’t fix my house because the banks won’t allow me to withdraw my money – and now you are taking me to court military? “

At this point, Paulikevich and the other two protesters he was being held with would be the first protesters in the uprising with hearings scheduled before the Lebanese military justice system. But the hearing was postponed and the military prosecution did not contact them to schedule a new hearing until the following May.

The trio were then questioned the same month, in the presence of two lawyers.

“They are always trying to create a plot so that the demonstrators know each other and conspire together,” Paulikevich recalled. “They kept asking how we knew each other and so on. But once we told them the truth, we didn’t fall for the trap.

Ultimately, all three were cleared. Ghida Frangieh, a Legal Agenda lawyer who was present during the interrogation, was not surprised.

“Only 64 of the 237 people indicted by the military justice system have so far been tried,” Frangieh told Al Jazeera. “90% have been declared innocent so far because there is no proof.”

Calling the lawsuits “abusive,” Frangieh said she believed they were politically motivated. “In this case, it’s to suppress the opposition.

Mohammad Bzeih summoned to military investigation more than a year after his arrest [Courtesy of Mohammad Bzeih/Al Jazeera]

The youth-led protest movement that came to life on October 17, 2019, saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets to demand political change and economic reform away from the country’s ruling sectarian parties and banks.

The Lebanese pound has lost around 90 percent of its value over the past two years and today around three-quarters of the population live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet.

Mohammad Bzeih, a member of the Lebanese Communist Party, was arrested in February 2020 as he blocked one of the roads leading to Parliament with dozens of other protesters.

A video widely shared on social media showed him sitting next to soldiers in riot gear trying to appeal to them. He was talking about the economic crisis and how they are also falling victim to the country’s corruption and financial crisis.

“A soldier tore me away and transferred me to riot police behind them,” Bzeih, 25, told Al Jazeera. “Then a lieutenant and his officers started beating me. “

Like many protesters, he was detained overnight and released later. He had his first military court hearing more than a year later, in April 2021, when protests had already subsided.

“I was asked why I was at the protest, what I was doing there, and I was rioting and destroying property,” Bzeih said, recalling his April hearing. . “They set a bank branch on fire that night, but I was arrested before it happened.”

Although Bzeih was declared innocent of attacking security forces and staging riots, he was recalled for another court session in late September. Authorities cited firecrackers in his backpack for the summons, but Bzeih, who was once again cleared, said he believed it was because he provoked the charge during his defense in April .

Lebanese military justice has a very broad jurisdiction against civilians, including to try them for espionage, treason and possession of weapons – but also for any form of conflict with the security personnel. Some human rights organizations have called for the narrowing of this broad jurisdiction, while others want an end to all civilian trials in military courts.

Frangieh said investigations and hearings in military courts are swift, unlike those in civilian courts, with judges often delivering verdicts on the same day without giving any explanation.

The experience, according to lawyers and detainees, has a huge psychological impact.

“You worry about your criminal record and basically your whole future,” Bzeih said.

On the other hand, efforts by Frangieh and other lawyers to hold authorities to account for violence against protesters, as in the cases of Paulikevich and Bzeh, were either rejected or suspended.

In more serious cases, demonstrators held in military detention centers alleged various forms of torture, while two detainees told Amnesty International that they had been subjected to mock executions.

No officer was held to account, and so were security personnel who shot protesters with live ammunition and metal balls on August 8, 2020, four days after the port explosion. of Beirut. Human Rights Watch said the security forces used disproportionate and “deadly” force that day.

“All the complaints that we have filed for police violence against the protests, they have either closed or frozen them,” Frangieh told Al Jazeera. “The military prosecutions closed our complaints of torture, and froze our 22 complaints about security forces firing pellet guns at protesters or shooting them in the eyes. “


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