Lebanon rebellion protesters anxiously await army court docket trials

Beirut, Lebanon – The anti-government rebellion that swept throughout Lebanon two years in the past may be a distant reminiscence to many within the nation, now battling compounding financial crises which have paralysed a lot of public life, however that’s not the case for the handfuls of protesters who’re at the moment awaiting trial at army courts.

More than 200 individuals – together with six minors – who had been detained and launched in the course of the protests had been summoned many months later to the army justice system, accused of participating in acts of violence towards safety forces, in line with the watchdog Legal Agenda. Most of them have but to be tried.

Among these detained was Alexandre Paulikevitch. The 39-year-old dancer was chatting with a police officer at a January 2020 protest on the central financial institution within the capital, Beirut, when 5 different officers dragged him by his hair and beat him. They arrested him and took him in in a single day, alongside two different protesters.

“When they interrogated me, they wanted me to confess that I sprayed paint on one of their superiors,” Paulikevitch informed Al Jazeera.

Alexandre Paulikevitch throughout a protest in Beirut [Courtesy of Alexandre Paulikevitch]

In September 2020, the dancer obtained a name from the Lebanese army inviting him over for a “cup of coffee”, a standard time period safety companies use when summoning somebody for questioning. His home had been destroyed within the lethal explosion at Beirut’s port the earlier month that devastated a lot of the capital.

“I said, ‘You’re joking! Military court?’” Paulikevitch recalled. “I lost my home in the blast, I lost my money, and I can’t fix my home because the banks won’t let me withdraw my money – and now you’re sending me to military court?”

At that time, Paulikevitch and the opposite two protesters he was detained with can be the primary protesters from the rebellion with scheduled hearings on the Lebanese army justice system. But the listening to was postponed, and the army prosecution didn’t contact them to schedule a brand new listening to till the next May.

The trio had been then questioned in the identical month, within the presence of two attorneys.

“They always try to create a conspiracy that protesters know each other and conspire together,” Paulikevitch recalled. “They would keep asking how we knew each other and so on. But once we told them the truth, we didn’t fall into the trap.”

In the top, all three had been cleared. Ghida Frangieh, a lawyer at Legal Agenda who was current on the questioning, was not stunned.

“Just 64 of the 237 people charged by the military justice system have so far been tried,” Frangieh informed Al Jazeera. “Ninety percent were declared innocent so far, because there is no evidence.”

Branding the prosecutions “abusive”, Frangieh stated she believed they’re politically motivated. “In this case, it’s to suppress the opposition.”

Mohammad Bzeih was summoned to a army investigation over a yr after his arrest [Courtesy of Mohammad Bzeih/Al Jazeera]

The youth-led protest motion that got here to life on October 17, 2019, noticed a whole bunch of 1000’s of individuals taking to the streets to demand political change and financial reform away from the nation’s sectarian ruling events and banks.

The Lebanese pound has misplaced about 90 p.c of its worth over the previous two years and in the present day, about three-quarters of the inhabitants stay in poverty and wrestle to make ends meet.

Mohammad Bzeih, a member of the Lebanese Communist Party, was arrested in February 2020 whereas blocking one of many roads resulting in Parliament with dozens of different protesters.

A video that was extensively shared on social media confirmed him sitting subsequent to troopers in riot gear making an attempt to enchantment to them. He was speaking concerning the financial disaster and the way they’re additionally victims of corruption and the nation’s monetary disaster.

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

Like many protesters, he was held in a single day and launched later. He had his first army court docket listening to greater than a yr later, in April 2021, when the protests had already waned.

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

Though Bzeih was dominated harmless of attacking safety forces and rioting, he was referred to as again for one more court docket session in late September.  Authorities cited firecrackers in his backpack for the summoning however Bzeih, who was cleared once more, stated he believed it was as a result of he had provoked the prosecution throughout his defence in April.

Lebanon’s army justice system has a really broad jurisdiction towards civilians, together with making an attempt them for espionage, treason and possession of weapons – but in addition for any type of battle with safety personnel. Some human rights organisations have been calling for the narrowing of that large jurisdiction, whereas others need an finish to all civilian trials in army courts.

Frangieh stated army court docket investigations and hearings are speedy, not like these at civilian courts, with judges typically issuing verdicts on the identical day with out giving any explanations.

The expertise, each attorneys and detainees say, takes an enormous psychological toll.

“You worry about your criminal record, and basically your entire future,” Bzeih stated.

On the opposite hand, Frangieh and different attorneys’ efforts to carry authorities to account for violence towards protesters, comparable to within the instances of Paulikevitch and Bzeh, have both been dismissed or suspended.

In severer instances, protesters who had been held in army detention centres alleged varied types of torture, whereas two detainees informed Amnesty International they had been subjected to mock executions.

No officer has been held to account, and the identical has occurred for safety personnel who fired at protesters with stay ammunition and steel pellets on August 8, 2020, 4 days after the Beirut port explosion. Human Rights Watch stated safety forces used disproportionate and “lethal force” on that day.

“All the complaints we filed about police violence against protests, they either closed them or froze,” Frangieh informed Al Jazeera. “Military prosecution closed our torture complaints, and they froze our 22 complaints of security forces firing pellet guns at protesters or shooting them in the eyes.”

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