A Popular Uprising Met With Violence and Torture: Crimes Against Protesters During Lebanon’s Uprising

2021-02-18    |   

A Popular Uprising Met With Violence and Torture: Crimes Against Protesters During Lebanon’s Uprising

 This report was originally published in Arabic in issue 66 of The Legal Agenda, “The Uprising Meets the State, and State Violence”. It is part of a series documenting the various ways the Lebanese authorities repressed protesters’ rights during the October 17 uprising. The series brings to light the sacrifices made by the Lebanese opposition and demonstrates the systematic use of force against protesters between 17 October 2019 and 15 March 2020. In the first report, we address the arrest of protesters during this period. In the second report (below), we discuss violence and torture during the uprising. The third part deals with repression during the lockdown period from March 16 to June 30 following the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020. The fourth part documents the ongoing summons of protesters in military and civilian courts.

To review our research methodology, please click here.


 This report analyzes data, statistics and witness testimonies which document the violence and torture suffered by civilian participants in the Lebanese uprising from 17 October 2019 to 15 March 2020. In coordination with the Lawyers’ Committee for the Defense of Protesters (LCDP), the Legal Agenda’s documentation team recorded 732 injuries among the demonstrators. By revealing the patterns of abuse and the seriousness of the crimes committed by state forces and political parties against participants in the uprising, this report aims to subvert the prevalent discourse peddled by the zuama and the entire Lebanese political class, which blatantly attempt to criminalize protests, freedom of expression and the revolution as a whole, while simultaneously concealing their own crimes.


Part I provides insight into who was assaulted, which security forces and party-supporters committed crimes against protesters, and what types of injuries were sustained as a result of the violence. Part II analyzes the patterns of violence we observed in an attempt to expose the tactics used by security forces. We focused on the violence perpetrated (1) by security forces “publicly” (in the streets and during demonstrations); (2) during the course of arrests, detentions, and interrogations; and (3) by supporters of certain politicians and political parties.


Based on these facts, our legal analysis concludes that crimes were committed against protesters during the uprising. Furthermore, they were committed with the tacit approval of the Lebanese government. The fact that politicians, judges, and public prosecutors have backed away from investigating or otherwise pursuing the perpetrators of these crimes further demonstrates the immediate urgency of reform and revolution in Lebanon. There is an urgent need to ensure that the rights to protest, freedom of expression and dissent are safeguarded.


Notably, this report focuses on physical violence, as it was easier to gather evidence to prove the harm suffered. However, we do not wish to elide the significance of the psychological harm suffered by protesters, whether through abusive language used by law enforcement officials or the reckless and out-of-touch speeches given by government officials throughout the uprising.


Faced with a country in collapse, protesters remained steadfast in their efforts to document the abuse they faced and showed great courage in providing their witness statements, explaining what happened to them in the streets and in detention centers. Without them, and the hundreds of photographs, videos and articles that documented the events of the October 17 uprising, this report would not have been possible.


Part I: Who Was Assaulted for Joining the Uprising?



In coordination with LCDP, the Legal Agenda’s documentation team recorded 732 injuries sustained by participants in the uprising, among them at least 75 women and 19 minors. Of the demonstrators who reported being subjected to physical violence, 90% were men. Among them were seniors (60+) and minors; working and unemployed people; school-aged and university students; as well as activists, journalists, lawyers, doctors, educators, and engineers. While most victims were Lebanese citizens, there was also a number of foreign residents (who are also entitled under Lebanese law to protest and express their opinions with due protection from violence and torture). The victims also included LGBTQ+ people, who, as a community, played a major role in organizing and mobilizing the demonstrations and were targeted as a result.


While the majority (73.4%) of reported assaults occurred in Beirut, we documented violence in several other regions of Lebanon. Akkar and the Northern cities (mostly Tripoli and Beddawi) constituted 11%, as well as about 5% in cities in the South (mostly Tyre, Sidon and Nabatieh) and Mount Lebanon (mostly in Jal El Dib, Aley, and Baabda). Another 3% took place in Keserwan and Jbeil, and around 2% in the Beqaa (mostly in Zahle and the Western Beqaa District). These percentages do not necessarily reflect the actual geographic distribution of violence during the uprising. Several complicating factors (for example, the extent of communication between the documentation team and victims protesting outside Beirut, the latter’s readiness to report violence, and our ability to verify their reports) resulted in the relatively higher percentage of reported assaults in Beirut.



Violence Against Minors


A significant number of school-aged and university students took part in the demonstrations, and at least 19 minors were subjected to physical violence for doing so. In the interviews we conducted with them, 15 minors reported being beaten and threatened by Internal Security Forces (ISF), one by Lebanese Military (LM), one by Lebanese Military Intelligence (LMI), one by Parliament Police (PP), and one by a civilian supporter of a political party.


One of the more serious assaults against a minor that we were able to document was a 16-year-old who reported being severely beaten by riot police after the demonstrations in downtown Beirut on 16 December 2019. As he lay on the ground, they kicked his back and stomach while pummeling him in the face and mouth with their batons, resulting in hospitalization. The medical examination revealed breaks in his fingers, four cracked teeth, and a split lip that required nine stitches.


We confirmed the report of another minor present during a demonstration in downtown Beirut on 13 November 2019, who related that he was brutally beaten and arrested by ISF on a side street. He was then moved to a station in central Beirut where he was beaten again, mostly on his face. According to his parents, the agents did not allow him to contact his family while in custody and failed to contact them upon his release. The minor returned home with bruises around his eyes and other serious facial injuries that were reported to the military courts by the Union for the Protection of Juveniles.


Another minor (15 years old) reported that he was tortured by PP after being taken from the demonstration site in front of Parliament to the cordoned-off areas of Najmeh Square, where metal barriers had been installed to prevent demonstrators from reaching the parliament building. There, he was reportedly surrounded by men in plainclothes who asked for his ID card, therefore making them aware that he was indeed a minor. Nevertheless, they proceeded to strike him as well as verbally assault him, forcing him to lay down on the ground throughout the assault. They took turns punching, kicking, and insulting him while asking, “Why did you take to the streets?” and “Why do you insult and assault the police?” His head bleeding, the boy was then handed over by PP to ISF so that he could be moved to Sakanat El Helou and investigated. He was not seen by a medical examiner at any point throughout his 24-hour-long detention there.


Violence Against Women


At least 75 women who participated in the uprising reported suffering from physical violence. Forty-two reported being beaten by ISF; 11 by LM; one by LMI; five by PP; nine by civilian supporters of political parties; and two by local police. Five of the assaulted women were unable to identify their assailants. At the demonstration sites themselves, these women endured aggravated battery that led to serious injuries including broken limbs, skull fractures, and loss of consciousness in the streets. This is all in addition to the violence, some of it sexual, that they suffered while in custody. For example, one activist who participated in a strike in Sidon in December 2019 reports that she was beaten, both with a baton and the butt of a rifle, and suffocated during her arrest by an LMI officer. This treatment continued during her transport by military vehicle to the detention center, where officers threatened to strangle her and told her that she was “an insect… [and after they are done with her] not even God will be able to find her”.


Female demonstrators were subjected to sexual harassment and threats of rape. One such victim in Beirut reported that, during a February 2020 demonstration which was surrounded by military personnel, she was approached by one from behind who pressed his body against hers. When she objected and asked him to step away, he laughed and said, “I wouldn’t lay a hand on you”. Meanwhile, another activist in the January 2020 demonstrations reported that an ISF agent threatened her during arrest, saying that she would be raped and beaten while detained. Assaults of a sexual nature were not just limited to women involved in the revolution. Men of various ages also reported that, while being beaten, some of their assailants lingered over their genitals and others pushed their batons into their behinds over their clothes.



Violence Against Photographers, Journalists, and Other Media Workers


Our team concluded that photographers and media personnel were targeted while reporting on the demonstrations and on violations being perpetrated against demonstrators. The Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom recorded 65 cases of physical assault against media personnel and the Legal Agenda documented the testimony of 11 journalists who were assaulted by both security personnel and civilian supporters of political parties.


Several forms of assault were committed against media personnel. Some were beaten and others were threatened in attempts to stop them from documenting what was happening around them. A notable example occurred on 23 October 2019 in Nabatieh at the hands of municipal policemen, who attacked journalist Hadi Al Amine in an attempt to stop him from live broadcasting a police attack on a group of protesters.


Another incident occurred a few days later in Beirut, where a group of civilians assaulted journalists and photographers in an attempt to stop them from recording the attack that wrecked the protest camp in downtown Beirut on 29 October 2019, the day that Saad Hariri’s government resigned. We confirmed another attack that same day on protesters for photographing security forces as they violated protesters’ rights. Several law enforcement officers seized demonstrators’ phones to erase their pictures and videos of such violations. Photography and video recording fall within the purview of rights (to document, gather evidence, ensure accountability, and attain information) embedded in the right to free expression. The law therefore protects citizens’ rights to film military and security forces as they carry out their jobs, especially in cases where they commit illegal infractions or violate codes of conduct.


Attacks on journalists played a prominent role in revealing government corruption, especially the so-called “hegemony of the banks”. For example, economic journalist Mohammad Zbeeb was assaulted in the Beirut neighborhood of Hamra on 12 February 2020 by three civilians with ties to Marwan Kheireddine, chairman of Al Mawarid Bank.[1] We have devoted a separate article to document incidents of repression and violence against journalists.[2]


Who Was Responsible for These Attacks?


Of the reported injuries, 88% resulted from violations and aggressions by ISF and LM against civilians. ISF is responsible for 54%, while LM and LMI account for 26%. Meanwhile, PP are responsible for 6%, while other entities, including municipal police in some areas, account for 2%. Injuries due to assaults by civilian supporters of political parties in power or by politicians’ associates was documented at 11%. The political parties that assailants aligned themselves with include the Amal Movement, Hezbollah, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Future Movement, and the Lebanese Forces.


Internal Security Forces: 54% of Injuries Sustained During “Riot Control”


We recorded 396 injuries due to violence by the internal security forces in their interactions with demonstrators in Beirut, Akkar, and the North and South. The vast majority of these injuries (356) occurred during demonstrations that brought together thousands of people in Beirut over the five initial months of the uprising that were essential to affirming the power of the people and the extent of their rage towards those in power.


Throughout the demonstrations in downtown Beirut, riot control forces adopted a systematically violent method of crowd-control, consistently using excessive force which, in some circumstances, amounted to torture (in accordance with international standards around torture outside places of detention).


In their attempts to disperse protesters during the major protests which took place in Beirut, we observed that riot police (connected to ISF) generally followed a pattern: riot police (sometimes joined by military personnel) relied excessively on tear gas, causing hundreds of protesters to complain of suffocation while others lost consciousness and had to be treated by emergency services. Often, if protesters remained in the streets or public spaces, riot police were observed using rubber bullets at close range, stun grenades and improperly directing tear gas canisters (resulting in multiple severe injuries to demonstrators’ eyes and faces).


In many of the protests we observed, while demonstrators were recovering from tear gas inhalation and were being treated by emergency medical services for rubber bullet wounds, riot control officers would spread out amongst protesters and resort to a tactic of arbitrary assault: beating individuals at random with batons, kicking them, and even forcing them down on the ground while firing rubber bullets to clear the protest sites or to punish those still in the streets. The process often went back-and-forth, with rounds of “hit-and-run” attacks that alternated between tear gas and assaults or threats against civilians who were determined to keep the demonstration intact. Finally, mass arrests would occur, a process which in itself is violent from start to finish and further involved arbitrarily detaining demonstrators without reasonable cause.


Lebanese law specifically prohibits security forces, especially ISF, from encroaching upon people’s exercise of their civil rights.[3] This includes people’s basic rights to life, self-defense, and safety from torture. Although official statements released by the ISF focused on the importance of maintaining “public order”, we would vehemently dispute the assertion that “public order” is served by assaulting unarmed protesters. Protection of public order is served, rather, by protecting the natural rights of the people to hold their government and those in power accountable, and to stop the unchecked rise of an oppressive regime.


Around 35% of the total number of protesters who sustained injuries due to ISF treatment reported that they were injured as a result of brutality during an arrest. Five of the demonstrators who we interviewed reported being assaulted inside a detention center, namely Sakanat El Helou in downtown Beirut. In a well-documented incident, activist Selim Ghadban was beaten by ISF agents during his arrest in front of the Association des Banques du Liban on 1 November 2019. The ISF director deemed the incident “an unwarranted reaction by a number of agents who used excessive force in dealing with him [Ghadban] in clear violation of ISF codes of conduct… This misconduct is under further investigation”. The director also announced that another investigation would be opened following the circulation of a video which shows assaults on protesters inside Sakanat El Helou on the night of 18 January 2020. Despite the fact that hundreds of protesters have reported similar treatment, only these two cases have been formally acknowledged by the ISF and no findings for either investigation have since been announced.



Parliament Police: Responsible for 6% of Injuries and Violent Torture of Demonstrators


Forty-seven protesters were injured as a result of violence by PP. It is important to note that there are no clear laws regulating the jurisdiction of this specific security force. They have released official statements claiming that their work is limited to guarding the Lebanese Parliament, which is provided for by the laws governing the internal functions of Parliament. However, maintaining public order during demonstrations is clearly not within their legal jurisdiction. Nevertheless, throughout a number of protests, we documented at least 47 cases of personnel from this security force illegally detaining protesters, dragging them behind the barricades of Najmeh Square and into what is known as “the parliamentary compound”. These protesters provided testimony that they were violently assaulted, threatened, and unlawfully interrogated.


To this effect, we documented the testimony of at least 20 protesters in several demonstrations that took place outside of Parliament between 14-15 December 2019 and 11 February 2020. According to these victims’ reports, PP removed them from the demonstration site and took them inside the parliamentary compound with their hands cuffed. PP then took turns violently beating them with clubs and, in one specific instance, with knives. Despite the fact that PP do not have legal jurisdiction to detain civilians, protesters reported being interrogated by these officers. Notably, many were asked about their motives for protesting and, specifically, about their opposition to the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri. They threatened to attack the protesters if they continued to attend demonstrations or if they criticized Berri.


At least nine civilians injured by PP were hospitalized due to the severity of their injuries and suffered from polytraumas. Their injuries included broken ribs and cheekbones, cracked teeth, skull fractures, kidney damage, and general bruising on the face and body. As a result of their injuries, these protesters were unable to work for stretches ranging from four to fourteen days.


On 10 December 2019, PP attacked a peaceful protest which was passing through Beirut’s Verdun area (which is within the vicinity of Berri’s Ain El Tineh residence). That day, dozens of demonstrators had lined their cars up in a peaceful protest parade. Even though they posed no threat to the residence or to any of the PP guarding it, they were subjected to battery and excessive force. Without any explanation or warning, PP surrounded the protesters’ cars, broke their windows, and forced them to open their doors in attempts to stop them from filming, all the while threatening anyone who tried to do so. One of the protesters – a journalist – reported being punched in the face. Many others also claimed that they suffered brutal beatings by PP, some of whom were in uniform and some in plainclothes. Others reported that PP followed them through side streets. At least 22 people were injured and many sustained property damage to their cars. Even though many of the victims immediately filed criminal charges against their aggressors, the courts have refrained from investigating these crimes.


riot police shooting rubber bullets”


Lebanese Military and Military Intelligence: Responsible for 27% of Injuries


The LM was mobilized by the state to act as riot police and internal security forces in every region which witnessed mass protests outside of Beirut. The military was especially active in Tripoli and Beddawi, in addition to Jal El Dib, Zouk, Baabda, Beqaa, Nabatieh, Sidon, Tyre, and Kfar Remen. Around 20% of the injuries attributed to LM occurred while officers attempted to disperse protesters and clear public spaces.


Beirut also saw an intensified military presence between October 2019 and June 2020, as the LM worked in coordination with ISF to close off public spaces as well as (violently) disperse protests and control crowds. We recorded 29 injuries resulting from brutal beatings by LM during Beirut protests.


It is worth noting that the LM has no legal powers of arrest related to domestic peacekeeping – unless specifically deployed in this capacity by Parliament. The Army’s fundamental responsibility lies, rather, with ensuring “external security, or defense of the state’s territory” and borders. According to a study of the legal texts related to the military and security work, the law states that “the Lebanese Military must not involve itself in [domestic] security matters except in cases of extreme need, because its intervention means that the domestic security situation has reached the most dangerous state”. Based on this, the use of force by the military to break up demonstrations is against the law.


LM repeatedly used excessive and life-threatening force during demonstrations which took place in Tripoli, Beddawi, and El Mina. Between the first eight days of protests in Tripoli (17-24 October 2019), the Emergency and Relief Corps announced that at least 506 people suffered from injuries that required treatment, while 63 of those individuals required hospitalization.


We first recorded the use of live bullets by LM on 26 October 2019, during the breakup of a demonstration in Beddawi. Five demonstrators were injured during these shootings and subsequently hospitalized. In this same area on 9 January 2020, LM again used excessive force and shot live bullets at demonstrators gathered on a main street. This time, at least 30 civilians were injured. Numerous confrontations of a similar nature were witnessed between LM and demonstrators in Tripoli’s main square, most famously the escalation of violence which occurred on 26 October 2019, which resulted in the injury of at least 24 people. Among them was the young man Ahmad Tawfiq, who sustained a bullet wound in his stomach and died three months later as a result of his injuries. On 28 April 2020, during the first quarantine period after 15 March 2020 and well after the army had begun using rubber and live bullets to disperse the protests, Fawaz Fouad al-Samman was shot in his upper thigh and passed away that night as a result of his injuries.


Additionally, throughout the protests in Jal El Dib and Zouk between October and December of 2019, we documented injuries sustained by at least 40 demonstrators who reported that they were beaten and fired upon by LM attempting to break up protests and clear the streets. For example, one protester in Jal El Dib reported that he was viciously attacked by eight military agents who struck him with batons and the butts of their rifles. The young man reported that he was also cursed at and verbally abused. Before he lost consciousness, he heard one agent tell another that “this brother of a wh*** is still breathing”. He was kicked so brutally in the back that he was hospitalized for kidney damage and a forensic doctor signed him off work for at least ten days.


During the initial days of the uprising, demonstrators in Sidon, Tyre, and Nabatieh were also subjected to excessive force and brutality while protesting peacefully. In Sidon, between 30 October 2019 and 16 January 2020, LM were repeatedly filmed violently coercing protesters to clear the roads. In Nabatieh, the military was similarly violent towards demonstrators throughout their continuous protests. On 18 January 2019, for example, LM violently dispersed a peaceful protest, injuring at least three demonstrators and breaking one woman’s nose. In Tyre, meanwhile, a man reported that while involved in a peaceful protest on Abbasiya Road, LM and LMI officers beat him with their fists and iron batons, then slammed a car door on his back and shoved him to the ground. This demonstrator had to be hospitalized for his injuries.


At least 22 people reported that they were brutally beaten by LM and LMI while in custody (either while being transported, detained, or interrogated at military detention centers). Prominent activists reported being detained by LMI in a manner that resembled kidnapping: they were approached either by plainclothes officers or from behind and then blindfolded, beaten, and threatened with disappearance. Protesters who were detained by LMI were not permitted any form of communication with their loved ones or legal counsel. To this day, no LMI officer has been held accountable for these crimes against protesters.


The absolute immunity and impunity enjoyed by those who perpetrated these crimes has effectively stripped Lebanese penal law of its force and further demonstrates the urgent need for the uprising.


“To Defend Our Leader’s Honor”: Violence by Civilian Supporters of Parties in Power Responsible for 11% of Documented Injuries


We were able to document a total of 80 injuries – about 11% of all the injuries we recorded – which were attributed to civilian supporters of political parties and well known politicians. Protesters and activists who were victims of attacks by civilian party supporters consistently told us that their aggressors openly threatened them for “attacking the honor of their zuama”.


Attacks by civilian party supporters and politicians’ bodyguards included incidents where bodyguards opened fire on large crowds, as well as mass attacks on groups of protesters (such as the famous attack which occured on 29 October 2019 against protesters on the Ring Bridge and in downtown Beirut, as well as the attack on protesters outside Al Janoub Council in Bir Hassan).


During the first two months of the uprising, the LCDP hotline received more than 15 reports of threats made against activists, either in person or on social media, for their political positions.


What Kind of Injuries Were Sustained?


The severity of the injuries we documented ranged between “moderate” (bodily bruises, scratches and light wounds), “major” (face and bodily bruises, deep wounds, major bodily scarring), “serious” (injuries resulting in stitches, hospitalization and medical follow-up), and “severe” (injuries resulting in surgeries and potential life-changing disability or chronic illness). We also received a number of complaints detailing sexual harassment.


We documented 39 injuries that were considered “severe”, which included injuries by rubber bullets and tear gas canisters fired by riot police and resulting in the victims’ loss of vision. We recorded 70 injuries that were considered “serious”, involving a broken bone or temporary physical or mental defect. We also recorded around 239 injuries that were considered “major” because they resulted in deep wounds or bruises on the head or face, or because they required the victim to go to the emergency room. Lastly, the 384 injuries recorded that were considered “moderate” included minor bruising or contusions, as well as those injuries of undetermined severity (because victims did not receive a medical exam or proper imaging of their injuries).



Some victims obtained proof of their injuries from a forensic doctor in the form of a medical report. According to 75 of the reports made available to us, victims had to take between one and 90 days off from work due to their injuries as per the initial evaluations conducted by medical examiners. Some of these injuries caused complications that required extensive, time-consuming treatment. Among these injuries, which forced victims to take more than ten days off from work, were rubber bullets to the leg. A notable incident involved a 20-year-old man who joined a protest in downtown Beirut on 18 January 2020. After being shot twice in the leg with rubber bullets, he fell to the ground. Riot police officers then fired a stun grenade at him which exploded in his hands after he tried to deflect it away from his face. The injuries to his hand were so serious that his thumb had to be amputated, and he had to undergo emergency surgery on his palm.



In addition to the injuries documented in medical exams, a number of protesters suffered injuries that were not recorded by doctors, such as injuries to their genitals and other sensitive areas inflicted there on purpose. Unreported injuries also include those resulting from the insertion of a baton into victims’ anuses over their clothes.




In the first seven months of the October 2019 uprising, six men lost their lives during the demonstrations. Many organizers and activists involved in the uprising consider these men to be “martyrs of the revolution”. According to initial information about the circumstances of their deaths, excessive use of violence by the LM, specifically the use of bullets to disperse groups of protesters in Tripoli, resulted in the death of (at least) two individuals, namely Ahmad Tawfiq and Fawaz Fouad al-Samman. Additionally, two others died during peaceful gatherings on the public roads of Tariq Al Matar and Khalde. The first was Hussein al-Attar, shot by a civilian, and the second was Alaa Abu Fakhr, shot by an off-duty soldier who tried to forcibly disperse a protest that was blocking a road. Finally, two Syrian nationals, Ibrahim Younis and Ibrahim Hussein, were also killed. The cause of their deaths was smoke inhalation from a fire that broke out near a building in downtown Beirut during the first days of the uprising.



Part II: What Patterns of Violence did Security Forces and Civilians Use to Silence Protesters?


The data presented in Part I provides clear evidence that the security apparatuses of the Lebanese state deliberately relied on excessive and, at times, life-threatening use of force and torture to disperse and intimidate protesters from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. This data allows us to refute the government’s argument that incidents of violence were “exceptional” or “one-off” due to individual officers exceeding their powers or breaching their code of conduct. Instead, we are able to present a different argument: that the Lebanese state employed a deliberate strategy of illegal and excessive use of force, and in some cases torture, to deter and punish protesters for exercising their right to express their opposition to the Lebanese government.


The injuries that we documented and observed were not exceptional. They reveal a clear and intentional approach to the use of violence against protesters. Responsibility for these injuries lies not with a few individual officers who “fell out of line”, but rather with the culture of arbitrary violence that has taken hold in the Lebanese security establishments. Moreover, the significant number of injuries resulting from aggressions by civilian party supporters affirms that the political establishment can resort to violence to terrorize and intimidate civilians who oppose and criticize them – knowing that there will be no accountability for their illegal assaults on peoples’ fundamental rights. There is no doubt that the aggressions which we documented are criminal acts punishable under the law. This is true of the assaults committed by government personnel and civilians alike.


Lebanon’s ISF and the LM are permitted to use force while carrying out their duties of maintaining public order and peacekeeping, respectively. However, the use of force against civilians is illegal where security forces cannot justify their actions in accordance with the basic principles of necessity and proportionality.


The Lebanese government, the Ministry of the Interior, and security forces have all claimed that force was used only to defend public property and maintain public order as well as “civil peace”. Instead of adopting transparent standards of accountability for violence committed against protesters, security forces used the media to show videos of property destruction and labeled the protesters “agitators” while condemning opposition to Lebanon’s security and military forces. Official statements were delivered alongside images of injured security and military personnel, while completely ignoring the numerous injuries sustained by protesters. Official broadcasts portrayed Lebanon’s security and military personnel (who are armed and trained to use weapons) as though they were the victims and the people the aggressors. While we witnessed violence by ISF and LM personnel against protesters all over the country, we heard proclamations from military officers, ISF directors, public security, and national guardsmen alike that they were doing “only what they had to in order to ensure stability, civic peace, and coexistence” and referring to the protests as “security developments unfolding in the Lebanese national arena”. In response to accusations leveled against the security forces for using excessive force while engaging with protesters and peaceful public gatherings, the Higher Defense Council decided to “increase in coordination between security and military forces… [with] zero tolerance for any attempt to erode state authority”.


We aim to expose the fallacies contained in the narrative that the government has relied on to delegitimize the uprising and strip civilian protesters and demonstrators of their fundamental rights. Using the testimonies of victims, protesters, and witnesses, we are able to build an understanding of the patterns of violence that security forces relied on. In the sections below, we discuss the various types of illegal force used and the extent to which it surpassed the bounds of the military and security forces’ right to use force against civilians.


1) Street Violence: Aggression by Security Personnel Against Protestors at Demonstration Sites


Of the injuries we documented, 81% were caused by excessive force used against protesters during the course of public demonstrations and protests. This pattern of violence can be broadly described as crowd control tactics. ISF and LM were routinely brutal in their interactions with protesters under the pretense of “riot control”. Both ISF and LM violently, arbitrarily, and impulsively assaulted protesters with deadly weapons to coerce them to disband and leave the streets. The violence to which protesters were subjected was disproportionate with the nature of the protests and routinely violated law enforcement codes of conduct while also threatening the lives and well-being of civilian protesters. Through our interviews with protesters who were assaulted in public areas during the course of demonstrations, and after reviewing photos, video recordings, and medical reports of the injuries they sustained as a result of this violence, we were able to conclude that the use of force by ISF and LM during protests consistently exceeded the bounds of “riot control” and repeatedly rose to the level of brutality with intent to harm unarmed civilians.



Arbitrary Violence at Demonstration Sites


Dozens of protesters reported being beaten on the head with batons during so-called crowd or riot control operations, many of whom lost consciousness or suffered skull fractures as a result. In one such instance, a protester was hospitalized with head injuries that resulted in a concussion, loss of consciousness, and short-term memory loss.


In testimonies indicative of how security forces arbitrarily resorted to violence while breaking up protests, a number of those injured reported how “attacks” by ISF and LM transformed the demonstrations into terrifying confrontations between the people and security forces. One injured protester said, “I had no idea why more than ten ISF agents attacked and beat me so brutally with their batons. They hit my face, head, and back as I laid on the ground. I begged them to stop… I hadn’t done anything more than demand that my rights – and theirs too – be respected. But they treated me like an enemy”. According to his medical report, this protester was hospitalized with broken fingers, bruising around his eyes, and bruising on his face as well as trauma to his spinal cord that put him in a back brace for more than 21 days. Other injured protesters reported that, while riot control beat them in the streets, their assailants taunted them by saying things like, “I told you to get out of the street, so why are you still standing here?” Another protester reported that after following orders from a group of army personnel to leave the demonstration, one of them attacked him about three kilometers away from the main demonstration site in Riad Al Solh Square. According to this protester’s medical report, the attack left him with a broken leg, leaving him in cast for more than 12 weeks.


A young man, about 20 years old, who had participated in the uprisings of 15 December 2019 also reported being beaten by riot control police after they moved him from the main road in front of the Kataeb Party Headquarters in Saifi to an alleyway in downtown Beirut far from the media. There, he reports being brutally beaten for a long time and suffered a spinal fracture as a result. Despite this injury, he was interrogated and detained at Sakanat El Helou for 18 hours. Having lost feeling in his leg, he had to be admitted to the hospital for treatment that lasted over a month.


These testimonies we received and recorded provide indisputable evidence as to how excessive force and violence were used to punish protesters for exercising their right to demonstrate.


The Red Cross and Civil Defense emergency services also released data on the number of injuries they treated, specifically during the major protests that took place in Beirut. Based on this data, we were able to estimate that at least 1,408 injuries were serious enough to require victims be transported to the hospital. The Legal Agenda’s documentation team and the LCDP were able to document 32% of these Beirut-based incidents (i.e. 449 cases). It is worth noting, however, that the data released by the Red Cross and the Civil Defense does not differentiate between injured civilians and injured ISF personnel. Therefore, it does not necessarily offer a clear picture of the number of injuries sustained by protesters at the hands of security forces.


Unlawful Use of Rubber Bullets and Tear Gas


We documented at least 35 injuries by live and rubber bullets during the protests in Beirut and the North. Some of these injuries were deadly, such as those that killed Ahmad Tawfiq and Fawaz Fouad al-Samman in Tripoli. Video recordings of the demonstrations show riot control agents firing rubber bullets at close range, exposing protesters to potentially lethal force. These actions resulted in serious injuries, such as facial wounds that led to the loss of an eye (in three cases) as well as injuries to the head, ear, hands, feet and genitals. One demonstrator reported being struck in the ear by a rubber bullet, while others were hit on their fingers. At least two others reported being shot by more than one rubber bullet at the same time, suggesting that riot control engaged in unlawful and heavy, repeated firing of their weapons. This is in direct contravention of specific guidelines on the use of crowd control weapons, and more generally of the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement, which requires security officers to minimize injury and preserve human life when using any type of firearms against civilians.[4]


Security forces similarly misused tear gas canisters in ways that threatened the health and lives of dozens of protesters, some of whom suffered respiratory distress and loss of consciousness as a result of asphyxiation. Several protesters reported seeing riot control officers firing canisters directly at them, an act which constitutes a violation of the human right to freedom from torture, violence, and physical ill-treatment according to the European Court of Human Rights.[5] As a result, two people lost an eye. One of these victims reported that after the canister hit his head, it exploded and left him with a broken eye socket and a broken nose. He had to stay in the hospital for six weeks as a result of these injuries and undergo four operations. A third victim reported losing consciousness due to a head injury from a flying tear gas canister, which required his hospitalization for four weeks.



Violation of the Principles of Necessity and Proportionality in Use of Force


Lebanese law makes it clear that, when exercising coercive powers to protect the peace, prevent crime and maintain public order, law enforcement officers must avoid the use of force and, in particular, must not resort to violence to fulfill their duties. Both ISF and LM are forbidden from using weapons against civilians save for exceptional circumstances, such as self-defense.[6] For any use of force to be lawful, law enforcement officers must abide by the principles of necessity and proportionality in accordance with the law and their respective codes of conduct.[7] The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement also stipulates that any such use of force must only take place where it is “unavoidable” and must be practiced in a way that minimizes injury by those against whom it is used, respecting and preserving human life.[8]


In order for “use of force” against civilians to be considered “necessary” under Lebanese law and international standards, law enforcement officers must show that they were placed in immediate danger by the civilian. They must also show that other preemptive measures were taken to avoid violence and that all other means of achieving the objective at hand (e.g. protecting others and/or protecting property) have failed. For example, security officials could have formed a human barrier, using their shields and other equipment between groups of protesters in order to defuse confrontational situations, rather than resorting to physical and life-threatening attacks. Another example of “alternative measures” could have been to stand in front of targeted buildings and stop anyone committing crimes that pose a danger to the lives and well-being of others.


Notably, there were some incidents where law enforcement officers could reasonably claim they needed to protect themselves or act in self-defense. This includes instances when, for example, rocks or fireworks were thrown in the direction of law enforcement officers. Nevertheless, in these instances the principle of “necessity” would first require that security forces properly use their safety gear and actively remove themselves from situations of direct confrontation, instead of immediately resorting to assaulting protesters with batons, clubs, stones, etc.


The principle of proportionality requires any use of force to be reasonable and commensurate with the risk posed. While the definition of “proportionality” is subjective, differing depending on the facts and circumstances of a case, there must be balance between what the security forces mean to protect through their use of force and the freedom that is being restricted – which in this case is the right to free expression, protest, and oppose a government that has abandoned its responsibilities, stripped its people of their rights, and undermined the mechanisms of democratic accountability.


Based on these principles, it is clear that ISF used force inappropriately and unnecessarily to break up Beirut’s popular protests between December 2019 and March 2020. The ISF described its members’ actions as working to protect private property from destruction and preventing protesters from reaching government buildings (such as Parliament). Yet ISF used tear gas canisters and rubber bullets excessively while repeatedly resorting to the use of violence against protesters, whether by beating them with batons and kicking them or by striking their faces and bodies and shoving them to the ground. LM members also inappropriately used force while dispersing peaceful assemblies on public roads outside Beirut, especially in Matn, Keserwan, and Tripoli. It was claimed that these actions by the military were meant to open thoroughfares and keep them from closing due to the peaceful gatherings, yet the protesters were handled violently and brutally beaten as they were being removed.


In many situations, the strategies employed by ISF and LM to break up demonstrations, prevent assembly, and protect private and public property caused serious harm to civilian protesters. Based on the indicators available to us – which include victims’ testimonies and medical reports as well as photos, video recordings, and reports by witnesses – it is clear that actions undertaken by military and security forces during the protests constituted unlawfully excessive use of force that was arbitrary and inappropriate in the circumstances. Such use of force and lethal violence is a violation of the protesters’ rights to expression and to protection of life and physical well-being. For all of these reasons, this level of violence could reasonably amount to crimes of torture as defined by the United Nations Convention against Torture, especially in light of the retaliatory form that it took on.[9]



2) Violence and Torture by Security Forces During Arrest, Detention and Interrogation


Of the protesters whose injuries we were able to document, 32% were assaulted during the course of their arrest by ISF or LM. At least 38 reported being brutally beaten and threatened either in custody (inside police/army vehicles or at stations where they were detained and interrogated). From the moment they were arrested, handcuffed, and discreetly removed from the streets, these protesters were subjected to various forms of physical and verbal abuse. In many cases, the type of violence amounted to torture.


Acts of torture are punishable under the Lebanese Penal Code and banned by international treaties and conventions, most prominently, the UN Convention against Torture.[10] According to Lebanese law, a crime of torture may be any sort of violence by a government official “at any point from preliminary inquiry, investigation, and interrogation through judicial inquiry, court trial, and sentence enforcement”.[11] It is similarly banned, with no room for exception or justification, by the codes of conduct adopted by LM and ISF. The human right to freedom from torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment is absolute in all circumstances. In the case of the right to protest, torture is forbidden even in situations of violent property destruction or rioting.


According to international law, arbitrary violence can constitute torture even if committed outside the scope of an investigation or outside places of detention.[12] International standards provide that a person is considered to be within the custody of law enforcement officers from the moment they are arrested – that is, the moment they are deprived of their fundamental freedoms. Therefore, any and all acts of severe violence committed by security forces at demonstration sites or other public spaces while protesters are in custody may amount to torture.


Torture Used to Extract Confessions and Information


Protesters who were detained by order of public prosecutors and brought before a court includes the well-known case brought against protesters who occupied a resort (the Rest House Hotel) in Tyre for vandalism and property destruction, as well as two separate cases brought against two groups of protesters for vandalism and rioting in Keserwan and Tripoli, respectively. These three groups of protesters were kept in pre-trial detention for anywhere between 23 to 101 days.


Seven of the protesters detained in connection with these cases reported that they were tortured by interrogating officers who were attempting to extract confessions and information from them. This group includes a minor who claims to have been beaten, first during his arrest and then again during his interrogation at the Saida station where he was detained. Others detained in connection with the Tripoli case reported that they were beaten and tortured inside the stations where they were detained.


Numerous protesters who were detained for four days or less at different stations also reported that they were beaten during their interrogations. They claimed that a number of officers used violence and the threat of violence specifically to obtain information or confessions. A number of protesters who we interviewed stated that they gave statements under duress in order to avoid further injury or prolonged detention.


Among the interrogation questions posed to them were, “Who sent you and what is your sect? Who paid you? How did you get here from the Beqaa? Why are you shouting in the streets? Why have you come out against the president? Who do you think you are, insulting the president of the republic? Where are you meeting? In some secret hideout? Are you all in league with one another?” One detainee reported that he was blindfolded throughout the interrogation and threatened with various forms of torture if he refused to answer questions, after being struck on the head, back, and knees.


Two others who were detained by LMI reported that they were repeatedly beaten while in their custody. Notably, during their first (of three) interrogations, they were forced to stand up and endure questioning while facing a wall – despite the fact that one of the two detainees was suffering from two broken vertebrae in his back as a result of the violence endured during his arrest. After the first interrogation was over, their interrogators blindfolded them, led them outside of the building, and forced them to kneel in total silence while intermittently hitting them on the back of their heads. Both detainees reported that while they were kneeling, they heard the sound of a Kalashnikov firearm being cocked near their heads. Furthermore, the detainee who later discovered that he had two broken vertebrae also reported that, after he was moved to a cell, an agent forbade him from sleeping despite the fact that he knew that the detainee was in severe pain from injuries to his back, neck, and legs, and that he was suffering from shortness of breath. This treatment undoubtedly constitutes physical and psychological torture.


Finally, a number of those detained by LMI following the protests in Saida, Tripoli, Zahle, and Matn in April of 2020 (during quarantine) reported being tortured during their interrogations in various ways, most notably through electrocution.[13]


Violence in Barracks and Transport Vehicles


At least 31 people arrested by LM before 15 March 2020 reported that they were tortured while in custody. At least seven of them were beaten in a transport vehicle or at a detention center. One reported, for example, that ten soldiers beat his knees and back while he was under arrest, causing him to fall to the ground where they continued to beat him. While being transported in a military vehicle, a soldier approached him and said, “It’s been twenty days since I’ve seen my family, you animal!” and proceeded to beat him on his head with a baton.


Two others relayed that they were struck with the butt of a rifle on their knees while in the Naqqash army barracks, where they were forced to stand against the wall blindfolded as soldiers hurled insults at them. One reported an officer saying to them, “you asses… you dogs… so you’re the ones blocking the roads before the army and insulting the president?” Military personnel then grabbed him by his hair and slammed his head against the wall.


We can therefore conclude that LMI and military personnel committed acts of violence and torture against a number of civilians after they detained them at protest sites. We were able to document incidents that took place in Baabda, Tripoli, Saida, and Beirut. The protesters injured by intelligence officers reported both psychological and physical torture. Many protesters who were detained by the army or LMI were arrested in a manner which amounted to kidnapping, i.e. while blindfolded and without being informed about where they would be detained. They were also forbidden from contacting their relatives or a lawyer in violation of Article 47 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.[14]


Violence at Demonstration Sites to Punish Protestors for Exercising Civil Rights


The particular pattern of violence protesters faced at demonstration sites while they were in the custody of ISF and LM is one of the most serious and concerning patterns of violence (amounting to torture in some cases). It represents a significant threat to not only protesters’ lives, but to all our fundamental freedoms. Dozens of protesters who we interviewed relayed that after they were detained and handcuffed by riot police, they were pulled aside to “side streets” away from public view and severely and brutally beaten to the ground. At least three protesters told us that they were beaten until they lost consciousness. Many protesters who we interviewed stated that they were assaulted by anywhere between four to eight riot police officers at once, while being verbally abused and asked questions such as, “Why do you want a revolution? Who is paying you to come out and protest?” They suffered from blows to their faces, genitals, backs, arms and legs – and the beating didn’t let up even as they writhed and screamed from the pain, begging them to stop.


It is our position that the acts of torture committed by Lebanese security forces while arresting protesters at demonstration sites were deliberate: by torturing protesters in the street, riot officers were able to punish them outside of their “places of arrest”. Under Lebanese law, for violence against detainees to constitute torture, it must take place within detention centers. By restricting their excessive use of force to the period of time between arresting and transporting the civilians to police stations, they were able to peddle the narrative that the violence and injuries occurred as a result of “self-defense” or because protesters were resisting arrest. Nevertheless, dozens of protesters’ reported that they were beaten after they were handcuffed, making it highly improbable that they sustained their injuries as a result of resisting arrest. This is also consistent with the types of injuries recorded in the forensic medical reports for the individuals we were able to review.


The acts of violence perpetrated by PP, where protesters were subjected to violence while detained in the parliamentary compound, were similarly brutal and degrading to the point that they may amount to torture under domestic and international law. One protester reported that during a demonstration in front of Parliament, “riot control agents suddenly appeared from behind a barrier at the entrance to Najmeh Square and started heedlessly beating us”. He added that he was then taken behind the perimeter between the demonstration site and Najmeh Square where “nearly 40 people ganged up on me and beat me. Some were in uniform and others in plainclothes. They punched, kicked, and struck me with clubs of wood and iron on the head, back, stomach, and even my knuckles. One grabbed my hand so that I couldn’t protect my face. They hit my mouth and cracked one of my teeth. All the while they were insulting and threatening me. One said, “We want to kill you, to clean the floor with you””. Another told him to kneel and bound his wrists with plastic straps before dragging him to another street, where a soldier in fatigues intervened to save him. He was then released and rushed to the emergency room. This particular protester suffered a skull fracture as well as serious back and shoulder injuries.


Another protester who was taken into the Parliament building by its guards also reports having his hands bound and being brutally beaten with a baton on his face and legs. The guards took him into a small room where they threw him to the ground and continued to beat him. They also confiscated his personal documents and searched his phone. Like many others, this protester reports being insulted and threatened by PP with lines like “we’re gonna f*** your sister” and “we’re getting a room ready for you” while beating him. In this case, they broke this individual’s cheekbone and ribs. Another protester, this time a university student, reports being attacked by six men in plainclothes while leaving a protest in front of Parliament. The attack occurred at the entrance of the building near Najmeh Square. He asked for help from one of the ISF agents and even grabbed his leg, but to no avail. After being taken into the Parliament building itself, agents bound his hands and started beating him yet again. One even used a “sharp knife-like object” to make slashes all over his back, causing severe injuries, which were later documented by a forensic medical report.


According to Lebanese law, the reported acts of violence by every one of the agencies named above – whether ISF, LM, LMI, or PP – may constitute crimes of torture. Their personnel, who are official employees of the Interior and Defense Ministries, committed acts of violence and brutality against unarmed protesters after taking them into custody, during the course of their work. Moreover, these officers deliberately sought to harm protesters for participating in the popular uprising, and their actions caused severe pain, injury and harm to dozens of civilians. Finally, it is clear from the testimonies and witness statements of protesters that the acts of violence committed against them were intended not only to punish them for exercising their rights, but also to intimidate them from exercising these rights again or ever returning to the demonstrations, and in some cases used to violently extract confessions from demonstrators.


3) Violence by Political Party Loyalists


The final pattern of violence that we will analyse is the systematic attacks perpetrated by civilian supporters of certain political parties and politicians, as well as certain politicians’ armed bodyguards. Activists, protesters and participants in the uprising were targeted for taking part in the demonstrations and for critiquing government officials on social media. These mafia-like attacks took place during demonstrations as well as outside of them, including attacks which took place at activists’ places of work or while they were going about their daily lives.


Politicians’ Bodyguards Fire on Protestors


On the first day of the uprising, associates of former Minister and current MP Akram Chehayeb (Progressive Socialist Party) opened fire on a crowd of protesters in downtown Beirut as Chehayeb’s motorcade attempted to pass through the protest site. The next day, in Tripoli supporters of former MP Misbah El Ahdab shot at protesters, injuring at least one person, and in Nabatieh bodyguards working for of MP Yassine Jaber (Liberation and Development Bloc) opened fire on protesters demonstrating in front of his office, also injuring at least one person. Additionally, during the protests of 19 November 2019 that took place in front of the Lebanese Parliament in downtown Beirut, demonstrators were exposed to gunfire from the motorcade of former Minister and current MP Ali Hassan Khalil (Amal Movement), however nobody was injured as a result of this shooting. No arrests or charges have been made against those responsible for any of these shootings with the exception of an announcement by LM that two people from the El Ahdab motorcade were arrested, and that warrants had been issued by an investigative judge in North Lebanon for a number of suspects believed to have been involved in the attack.


Group Attacks on Protestors


There were several incidents where we witnessed “group attacks” by civilian supporters of political parties on protesters at demonstration sites in different areas across Lebanon. During a series of well-documented attacks on protesters in downtown Beirut, Amal and Hezbollah supporters assaulted and threatened hundreds of protesters, claiming that they represented the “counter-revolution”.


The first attack took place on 25 October 2019, after a speech by the Hezbollah Secretary General and then a second, markedly more violent, attack took place again four days later on October 29, a few hours before Saad Hariri’s government resigned. We documented at least 20 injuries which resulted from these attacks. The aggressors punched protesters, pushed them to the ground and threatened to beat them further if they did not “break up” their demonstrations. In some cases, protesters were struck with steel and wooden bars. The civilian aggressors also set fire to the protest camps’ tents and stole a significant amount of property from them. Some protesters reported that some of the aggressors brandished knives and threatened to use them. A number of protesters reported that the security forces who were present during this attack did not attempt to stop the civilian party supporters, nor did they move to arrest any of the assailants. According to the records available to us, a number of protesters were hospitalized after they lost consciousness and sustained injuries to their heads and bodies. Similar attacks again took place on 25 November 2019 against demonstrators on the Ring Bridge, and then again on 11 February 2020 during the parliamentary session that instated the government of Hassan Diab. No serious injuries occurred as a result of these attacks, during which the military and security forces formed a barrier around the protesters and held back attacks against them.


Southern Lebanon, especially Saida, Tyre, and Nabatieh, witnessed a series of attacks by supporters of certain political parties. For example, municipal police and Amal supporters attacked protesters in Nabatieh on 23 October 2019. We were able to document six injuries that resulted from these attacks, including one very serious injury sustained by a minor who was hospitalized for three days and suffered a spinal concussion.


The protest camps in Tyre, Aley, Nabatieh, and Jal El Dib were set on fire several times. One attack on a camp in Aley on 22 December 2019 left two people seriously injured. The activists themselves were also physically attacked several times in these and other areas. An example of this includes a young man who was shot in the leg during an attack by an armed civilian (who is thought to be a supporter of the Free Patriotic Movement) on a group of protesters in Jal El Dib on 14 November 2019. The shooter was later arrested by ISF. We also documented an attack on a young girl who was attacked by civilians during a protest in Daoura for carrying a sign criticizing Samir Geagea, executive chairman of the Lebanese Forces. 


Militia-like Targeting of Protesters


At least 17 activists reported being individually targeted by political party supporters for publicly opposing or critiquing party leaders. A few of the most prominent attacks of this nature include the targeted assault of journalist and researcher Mohammad Zbeeb, and the assaults which targeted Firas Hatoum and Rabih El Amine, both of whom are prominent and outspoken activists who oppose the ruling political class. In some cases, attackers coerced protesters or critics of certain parties to apologize publicly to the zaeem or “leader” after beating them, threatening them and then filming them. Such attacks compelled a number of people to move from various regions of Lebanon to the capital Beirut, where they could protest more freely and express their opinions and opposition at a distance from their family and local social networks. In some cases, this violence took a regional and sectarian form, such as the attack perpetrated by associates of MP Ziad Aswad (Free Patriotic Movement) on a protester from Tripoli for “trespassing on Aswad’s territory”. Throughout the attack, the assailants yelled, “Are you from Tripoli? What have you come to Keserwan to do, you animal?”


These acts of civilian violence by supporters of politicians and political parties against protesters for exercising their right to free expression are not only crimes of assault and abuse, but also crimes against the protesters’ civil rights. According to Article 329 of the Lebanese Penal Code, such crimes amount to an action that prevents persons “by threat or force” from exercising their civil rights and therefore constitutes a crime under Lebanese law. Nevertheless, as a result of the stark power disparity between the victims and their aggressors – the latter enjoy the support of government officials and party loyalists – many of the former refrained from reporting the assaults. In some cases where the victims filed complaints, the courts neglected to pursue the aggressors or investigated only those who physically carried out the assault without asking who instigated or ordered them to do it, and to what extent the political party they represented bore responsibility for the violent acts they committed.


Conclusion: In the Absence of True Accountability, What Radical Change is Needed?


The documented assaults committed during the uprising plainly show that Lebanon’s military and security forces committed criminal offences against protesters, most flagrantly torture, kidnapping, attempted murder, assault, abuse, and major violations of civilians’ most fundamental civil rights. The extent and severity of the torture in some cases raises questions about the responsibility of those in charge of our military and security agencies for these violent acts. Nevertheless, it remains nearly impossible to hold officials in positions of power accountable for the countless injuries and losses civilians have suffered throughout the popular uprising. Within these agencies, no transparent investigations into the reported violence have taken place, and no officers have been held accountable. Furthermore, no announcements have been made about the findings of the few investigations that were reportedly conducted. These investigations were limited to individual incidents, and were ostensibly going to investigate the assault by an ISF agent against activist Salim Ghadban in November 2019, as well as a video (which was widely circulated) of civilians who had been mass arrested at Sakanat El Helou in January 2020. The military also announced that an investigation had been opened into the killing of Fawaz Fouad al-Samman in April 2020, but no further information has been shared about the progress of this investigation. Public prosecutors have deliberately refrained from investigating the acts of violence we have documented. In December 2019, the LCDP submitted 15 legal complaints to the General Prosecutor, alleging various crimes, including battery with intent to cause harm and torture. As of the date of this publication, both the General Prosecutor and the Military Prosecutor’s Office have refused to open a fair and transparent investigation into these complaints.


The very fact that no institution or person has been held accountable for the 732 injuries detailed in this report underlies the urgent need for fundamental reform in Lebanon. Victims deserve justice and redress, and the current legal system cannot deliver it.


As we continue to witness the unchecked institutionalization of violence against civilians take hold in Lebanon, we have much to fear. This is a transformation that is enabled by acquiescence to a culture of violence in the Lebanese military and security apparatuses, a culture that has grown through systemic abuses of power and excessive use of force with absolute impunity. The experiences of violence we discussed in this report are not new to members of traditionally marginalized communities in Lebanon, which includes refugees, LGBTQ+ people, foreign workers, individuals suspected of terrorism, persons arrested for drug use, and sex workers. Yet, the uprising and the brave dissent of thousands of civilians forced a wider sector of Lebanese society to face the reality of surveillance, arbitrary arrest, abuse and violence which is systematically employed by Lebanese security forces.


It is our hope that this experience will give rise to a broad public opinion which demands change and radical reform both of the law and of the agencies responsible for enforcing it. Such change would begin by guaranteeing judicial independence and reforming the standards of “public order”. Ultimately, it would replace a system where civilians are tried in military courts with one that is built on a culture of dignity, justice, transparency and accountability.




This report was originally published in Arabic.


Keywords: Lebanon, Violence, Torture, Revolution, Protests, Protesters, Internal Security Forces, Lebanese Military, Lebanese Military Inelligence, Parliament Police, Rights, Freedom


[1] Lamya al-Sahli, “Mohammad Zbeeb in the Eyes of His Followers”, The Legal Agenda, 15 February 2020 [in Arabic]; “The Legal Agenda’s Statement in Solidarity with Mohammad Zbeeb: Terror Tactics Will Not Stop Us from Defending Society”, The Legal Agenda, 13 February 2020 [in Arabic].

[2] Laure Ayoub, “Testimonies From Journalists Silenced During the Revolution”, The Legal Agenda, 20 October 2020 [in Arabic].

[3] Article 224 of ISF Organizing Law 17 states, “Men of the ISF are not permitted even in situations unaccounted for in the law to infringe upon the people’s personal rights”, 6 September 1990.


[4] Article 5 of the “Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials”.

[5] On 17 July 2013, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the firing of tear gas canisters directly at protesters violates the human right to freedom from torture, violence, and physical ill-treatment.

[6] The law states, “In the exercise of their coercive powers, police members shall avoid all violence that is not deemed necessary”. The ISF Code of Conduct also stipulates that the use of force must “be proportionate and commensurate with the circumstances [and used only] if other means fail to accomplish the mission (Article 225 of Law 17, dated 6/9/1990)”. The Lebanese Military Code of Conduct also asserts necessity, proportionality, and lawfulness as the basic principles for the use of force and firearms.

[7] ISF members are not to use weapons except “after having taken all possible precautions and exhausted all other means”. Force and firearms are to be used, moreover, only in particular, exceptional situations such as lawful self-defense (Article 221 of Law 17).

[8] Article 5 of the “Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials”.

[9] Nils Melz, “Extra-custodial Use of Force and the Prohibition of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment”, 20 July 2017.

[10] See Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the Lebanese Government on 3 November 1972; Article 8 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights; and UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment joined by Lebanon under Law no. 185, 24 May 2000.

[11] Article 401, Lebanese Penal Code. 

[12] Melz, “Extra-custodial Use of Force and the Prohibition of Torture”, op. cit.

[13] Our in-depth article on these post-March 15 cases can be found here.

[14] Our full analysis around the rights and violations of Article 47 can be found here


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