How Lebanese Authorities Weaponized Arrests to Suppress the Right to Protest

2021-06-03    |   

How Lebanese Authorities Weaponized Arrests to Suppress the Right to Protest
Illustration by Raed Charaf

This report was 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 (below), we address the arrest of protesters during this period. In the second report, 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


In the period between 17 October 2019 and the announcement of a general mobilization to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic on 15 March 2020, our data shows that Lebanese security forces arrested at least 967 people for participating in the popular uprising and its protests, an average of 6.4 arrests per day. 

This report presents an analysis by the Legal Agenda of information gathered in coordination with the Lawyers’ Committee to Defend Protesters (LCDP), documenting the arrest of individuals who participated in the Lebanese uprising. 

First, we discuss the legal theory that informs our analysis and reading of the arrests. Second, we seek to answer the following questions: Who was arrested? Who performed these arrests? Where in Lebanon did they occur, and how? How long were arrested protesters detained for? Finally, we look at how law enforcement interacted with protesters during interrogations, as well as at the most serious violations and human rights abuses committed against individuals while in the custody of state security forces.

In answering these questions, our aim is to bring attention to legal infractions committed by the authorities against demonstrators. Additionally, we will investigate how the Lebanese authorities – specifically the judiciary, security forces, and military – weaponized criminal law and powers of detention to suppress the popular uprising. We argue that these efforts sought to break the people’s will to protest, and to discourage them from exercising their rights to engage in civil disobedience and resist a tyrannical government.



The People Rise Up to Protect State and Society From an Abusive Government

 For a free, just, and democratic society to protect itself and keep tyranny and authoritarianism at bay, it must have an independent judicial system founded on just principles and laws. These principles hold that the people are the source of the government’s authority, in all its branches. In such a system, the rule of law seeks to protect people’s rights in the face of tyranny and abuses of power. The legal system must guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms, which in turn enable people to monitor the functioning of government, and to reclaim power when the principles of social justice are fundamentally violated. In theory, Lebanese law encompasses these fundamental freedoms and rights, which include personal liberty, freedom of opinion, the right to freedom of assembly and protest, and the right to a fair trial.

However, when state institutions are used as instruments of embezzlement and clientelism, and are employed in defense of the ruling class’ interests at the expense of the people’s rights,[1] the people must defend themselves and their state. When the government systematically disregards the people’s rights – stripping the law of its effective power to address abuses of power by the government – whether by privileging political considerations over citizens’ rights and the independence of the judiciary, or by the deliberate obstruction of justice – it becomes impossible to hold the authorities accountable via traditional constitutional means. When the electoral process is undermined, as it was in Lebanon before 2018, or the integrity of free elections is compromised due to rampant clientelism that privileges the special interests of those in power over the state and the common good, the social contract between the government and the people is dissolved. This contract rests on the preservation of social justice in the face of tyranny, and its dissolution means that “the right to resistance and civil disobedience becomes a necessary tool for balancing the scales between the people and the autocrats in an attempt to restore public order.”[2] 

Whether we choose to call the ongoing confrontations in Lebanon between the state authorities and the people a revolution, a popular uprising, or a movement, it is clear that two fundamental demands lie at their core: the first is for the people’s constitutional status as the source of government power to be restored; and the second is for fundamental changes to the existing economic and political order, which has lost all legitimacy due to the general deterioration the country is living through. 

As a result of the confrontations with the ruling class which took place in the form of demonstrations, protests, civil disobedience, and revolutionary destruction, the people’s understanding of their relationship with Lebanon’s constitutional powers and its institutions has radically changed. These events have also precipitated a confrontation with the banking sector, which has been accused of squandering both people’s money and society’s resources. We must keep this revolutionary context in mind as we evaluate how the Lebanese regime, in all its branches, interacted with those involved in the uprising.

The uprising ignited a public conversation about the relationship between the law and revolutionary action. Is such action protected or prohibited under the law? What are the legitimate means of opposing and negotiating with a government which, having plundered society’s resources and attacked its people at every level, has lost constitutional legitimacy? This raised many questions around the idea of “peaceful” and “violent” revolution, and questions on what constitutes ‘legitimate’ violence in the face of both violent authorities and a total imbalance in power between the people and the regime. The fundamental question that we are attempting to answer in this article is how the authorities used the law, specifically criminal law, in their battle with protesters. 


Legitimate Unrest in Self-defense

The protests that began on 17 October 2019 took various forms. As was the case with the movement (hirak) of summer 2015, the Lebanese authorities were at pains to express their ‘respect’ for both the people’s freedom to protest and their right to peaceful opposition publicly. However, they also resorted (once again) to claims that “peaceful protests had been infiltrated” to justify the repression of these demonstrations. Such statements were intended to conjure fear about the presence of members of the most marginalized sectors of Lebanese society in the protests, which certain parts of the media had already branded saboteurs and rioters for-hire. The authorities attempted to lay down clear red lines to the protesters by labelling their actions as dangerous crimes which threatened public order and would therefore warrant increasingly harsh punishments for those involved. This official discourse completely ignored the fact that a dramatic change in the status quo meant that in Lebanon the authorities no longer preserved public order; rather, the people themselves were fighting to protect their state which was under attack from the ruling class. In light of this, we argue that the protesters’ actions should be considered acts of self-defense; in defense of their state and society. Criminal intent cannot therefore be ascribed to their actions, which fell into four major categories:

  • Peaceful assembly in public places: in the discourse of Lebanese officials, the peaceful gatherings of those involved in the uprising were negatively reframed as blocking roads, inciting civil war, provoking sectarian tensions, and violating citizens’ freedom of movement. Such accusations, however, contradict the realities on the ground, where demonstrators (“road blockers” in the language of the state) kept thoroughfares open for civilian, military, and emergency vehicles in accordance with international standards for peaceful assembly. The authorities also attempted to invoke the right to freedom of movement against the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Yet international rules settled this debate several years ago in affirming that “the free flow of traffic should not automatically take precedence over freedom of peaceful assembly.”[3] 
  • Resisting crowd dispersal (this includes attempts to breach barriers blocking the way to Nejmeh Square): this form of protest is protected by the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom to protest, as well as the right to access Parliament. Nevertheless, Lebanese authorities and security forces claimed that people’s attempts to exercise these rights constituted rioting and that by remaining at protest sites in order to maintain the protest, individuals were guilty of resisting security forces. 
  • Acts of vandalism and property destruction: participants in the Lebanese uprising engaged in acts of vandalism and property destruction targeting the buildings and properties of banks, government bodies, and private companies involved in state corruption. This can be considered targeted acts of deliberate and legitimate “revolutionary destruction.” Ignoring the motives behind these actions, Lebanese officials simply labeled them as attacks on banks and property (public and private). They also ignored the fundamental legal principle of proportionality, which is relevant in this context: Lebanese banks had imposed illegal capital controls on individual depositors’ accounts — i.e. their legal private property — and the courts, as well as the state, were not taking action to hold these institutions accountable.
  • Critique of public officials and those in power: protesters’ critiques of politicians, bankers, and other powerful individuals and political parties proliferated on various social media sites during the uprising. The Lebanese authorities considered such statements to be crimes of defamation and vilification of public officials and institutions. Such labels, however, disregard the socio-political function of the right to insult and shame those in power, a right that becomes a duty in the absence of any institutional means for holding those in power accountable.

These actions are all examples of civilians exercising the right to resist abuses of power and defend the state. To quote the Legal Agenda’s own Karim Nammour, they constitute a type of “personal popular justice” and are intended as acts of both self-defense and defending the state in a context where the regime constantly violates the people’s rights without any institutional accountability.[4]


Reading the Arrest Numbers: The Military Regime Versus the Street, and the People


The Number of Participants in the Revolution Put Under Arrest: 967

Minors: 58 Women: 16


Between the outbreak of the first protests on 17 October 2019 and the declaration of a general mobilization to fight COVID-19 on 15 March 2020, we recorded at least 967 arrests by various branches of the security apparatus across Lebanon targeting those involved in the demonstrations. This period was marked by the people’s repeated attempt to use street protests as their primary mode of resistance, with the intention of bringing down the government before forming a new one to guide the country through a transitional period. These efforts also involved stopping Parliament — which had lost all credibility — from convening and doing further harm to the common good, and also entailed pressuring the banks to release people’s bank deposits.

The Lebanese security forces did not regularly announce the numbers of protesters arrested. Moreover, the directorates of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), General Security (GS), and State Security (SS) all neglected to provide the Legal Agenda with official arrest and injury numbers, thereby violating our legal right to access this kind of information.[5] During a press conference on 16 January 2020,[6] the ISF Director General left much unsaid in his announcement that 353 civilians had been arrested (we had documented 94% of the arrests in this period, i.e. 332). 

The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) did publish the number of protesters it detained when clearing some protests. In addition, Lebanese military command answered the Legal Agenda’s request for information stating that, on 5 December 2019, 734 people were arrested.[7] This is a very large number, considering it accounts for 30% of the arrests we were able to identify. This is likely to be because the military included cases in its statistics which we did not document, such as arrests for assaulting civilians not involved in the demonstrations and arrests for the sale of drugs and public intoxication.

The scale of arrests illustrates how the Lebanese state used the full-force of its security apparatus and military institution against the popular uprising. This campaign against the people constituted a colossal waste of resources for the security apparatus and the poorly resourced Lebanese judicial system, especially in light of the broader monetary and economic collapse. The numbers appear especially high when compared to the numbers of arrests during the 2015 garbage crisis protests. According to our records for that two and a half-month period, the number of arrested demonstrators was 250, which totals 3.5 arrests per day in comparison with 6.4 per day during the first five months of the October 17 uprising.[8]


1) Who Was Arrested?

The majority of those arrested during the uprising were Lebanese men, while (at least) 58 minors, 16 women, and 46 foreigners were also taken into custody.


Photo by Maher Kheshen


The Targeting of Young People

Security forces focused on arresting men during the protests, especially young men. Of the demonstrators whose ages we were able to verify, 80% were under 30 and the youngest was only 12 years old. This figure reflects the general makeup of the protests, with men under the age of 25 making up the majority of protesters.[9]

Lebanese security forces appeared to be targeting the youngest protesters in an effort to teach them a lesson and prevent them from exercising their right to protest. As the uprising unfolded, it became quite clear that the security forces used arrests not only to break up the protests, but also to discourage protesters from taking to the streets in the future and to suppress any will to protest. While these tactics often crystallised protestors’ determination to keep pressure on the streets, many others who had been arrested reported that they did not want to return to the streets after their experiences at the hands of state security forces. When we spoke to one such individual, the 24-year-old swore that he would never take to the streets again after the violence and beatings he suffered after and during his arrest by riot police on the first day of the uprising. He expressed fear both for his future and the possibility that the security forces would “fabricate” a crime to charge him with. According to his testimony, he was arrested even though he did not partake in any vandalism or property destruction whatsoever and added that he has no means or “connections” with which to defend himself if things were to escalate.


Minors Making History

At least 58 minors were arrested, mostly (72% of them) during mass arrests. A significant number of minors took part in the popular protests, including many high-school students who, not content with merely studying it, participated under the banner of “making history”. The municipal police in Hammana (Baabda, Mount Lebanon) is responsible for the well-known ‘groups arrest’ of minors: five young men, three of whom were minors, were taken into custody and turned over to Lebanese Military Intelligence (LMI) on 23 November 2019 for taking down a Free Patriotic Movement banner in their town. This group of children was arrested and subjected to military interrogations at three different detention centers even though they had not committed a military crime, or any other sort of crime. [10]


Women Shatter Male Hegemony in the Street

Through their significant presence in the Lebanese uprising, women put an end to the traditionally male monopolization of popular protests and of public space more broadly, transforming the street into a more integrated — if not outright feminine and feminist — space. Though the number of women arrested (16) was much lower than the number of men, our findings regarding state violence during the protests reveal a different pattern. Indeed, the number of women subjected to beatings, abuse, and injuries from excessive use of force during crowd dispersal was more than four times the number of women arrested, and about 10% greater than the number of such assaults against men.


Non-Lebanese in Lebanon Also Have the Right to Protest

At least 46 people from Arab countries other than Lebanon were arrested. They hailed from Syria (33), Palestine (9), Iraq (1), and Egypt (1). Three photographers from the United States, Belgium, and France were also taken into custody, a fact that reflects both the arbitrary nature of the arrests and the Lebanese security forces’ intent to punish members of the media (whether Lebanese or foreign) for documenting violations committed during crowd dispersal operations. In their public statements, Lebanese security forces, particularly the military, focused on the number of foreigners, especially Syrians and Palestinians, among the protesters in an attempt to delegitimize the demonstrations in the eyes of the public. A closer look at these arrested “foreigners,” however, reveals that most of the Syrians and Palestinians arrested during the protests are in fact children of Lebanese women who cannot claim Lebanese citizenship due to discriminatory laws, but nonetheless identify as Lebanese and with the causes advocated for by the protests and Lebanese public opinion more broadly. 

The other non-Lebanese individuals arrested had either been living in Lebanon for a number of years and thus come to share Lebanese citizens’ grievances with the government and the economic crisis, or were arbitrarily detained by security forces simply for being foreign. One Syrian businessman, for example, was arrested during a protest in front of the banks on Hamra Street on 14 January 2020 while entering his hotel upon arrival from the airport, despite not having participated in any demonstrations. Some of the individuals without Lebanese citizenship who were arrested reported that they were told they have no right to protest in Lebanon. In such cases, the authorities cited an administrative decision (of which we can find no record) that prohibits foreigners from participating in protests. Yet the fact of the matter is that this right is guaranteed without discrimination on the basis of nationality by both the Lebanese Constitution and international agreements. 


2) Who Arrested Participants in the Uprising, and Where Did These Arrests Occur?




150 Akkar and the North Governorate; 46 Keserwan and Jbeil; 67 Beqaa; 461 Beirut; 133 Mount Lebanon; 107 the South Governorate and Nabatieh


Lebanon’s various security forces (e.g. the military, ISF, and other agencies discussed below) shared policing duties throughout the months of protest following the uprising. Depending on the region, they also jointly handled arrests and interrogations. In Beirut, which was the epicenter of the protests, the ISF took charge, occasionally receiving help from the army, with the latter primarily responsible for arrests and interrogations outside the capital. It is notable that other arms of the security apparatus, namely the Parliament Police (PP), SS, and GS, also took part in the campaign of arrests targeting participants in the uprising, albeit to a lesser extent.


Lebanon’s Security Apparatus Expands Its Domain… and With It, Arrests

The geographic spread of arrests by numbers, represented in the image above, attests both to the decentralized nature of the Lebanese uprising and to the broad participation of people from disparate sectarian, regional, and socio-economic backgrounds in the revolution. These percentages also show that the Lebanese state marshalled the entirety of its security apparatus across all affected regions and sought to monitor all of the popular mobilizations while arresting participants who crossed certain “red lines.” The majority of arrests (461 i.e. 47.5% of the total number of arrests) occurred in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, mostly at the hands of ISF and riot police. In keeping with the decentralized nature of the protests, we monitored arrests in over 35 towns stretching into the northernmost and southernmost regions of the country. The percentages of total arrests were relatively even between the towns of the North Governorate and Akkar (15.5% of total arrests, most in Tripoli, Beddawi, and Halba), Mount Lebanon (13.7% of total arrests, mostly in El Metn and Jal El Dib), and the South Governorate and Nabatieh (11% of total arrests, mostly in Sidon, Tyre, and Nabatieh). We recorded fewer in Beqaa (6.9% of total arrests), and Keserwan and Jbeil (4.7%). The disparity in the numbers of arrests in Beirut compared to other places may be due to the difference in the density of the protests witnessed in the capital compared to other towns over the first five months. It could also be linked to the willingness of the protesters and their relatives to contact the LCDP, which was perhaps greater in Beirut and its surrounding areas.

It is clear that the difference in the roles played in the uprising by the various arms of the Lebanese security apparatus was determined by region rather than by the authority afforded to them under law, or by the protesters’ conduct (i.e. the extent to which the types of acts of resistance constituted military crimes as defined by the law governing military courts). 

The ISF arrested 43% of all protesters (419), most of whom were in Beirut (403 of the 419), especially during the demonstrations that took place downtown, in the vicinity of the Banque du Liban and near Emile Helou Police Station. For its part, the LAF (including LMI) performed 46% of the recorded arrests (i.e. 445), most of which were not in Beirut. The role of ISF was thus relatively limited beyond the capital. In the North Governorate and Akkar, the LAF and LMI carried out 92% of the arrests that we documented. They were also responsible for over 82% of arrests in Mount Lebanon and Beqaa, and 61% of arrests in the South Governorate and Nabatieh. As for Keserwan, they were responsible for all arrests that we recorded in connection with participation in the uprising.



What Authority Does the Lebanese Armed Forces Have In Domestic Policing?


The arrest of protesters by the LAF revived a public conversation about the legality of the military’s mandate to maintain internal security. According to Lebanon’s National Defense Law, the army can be tasked with maintaining internal security through a decree issued by the cabinet. Such a decree must include a time limit and cannot be absolute or permanent. Politicians usually cite Decree 1 issued in 1991 as precedent for commissioning the military with domestic policing, despite the fact that this decree does not exist, and was not published in the official gazette.[11] 

On what legal basis, then, does the LAF take on this mandate? This question becomes ever-more urgent in light of the legal consequences of the expansion of the military’s authority, and with it the authority of the special military courts which restrict civilians’ rights and freedoms. Indeed, Lebanon’s military establishment has not stopped at merely policing and breaking up demonstrations across the country; it has also assumed responsibility for interrogations and arrests in situations where no military crime has been committed, such as in cases of vandalism and property destruction. This is despite the fact that the Military Court specifically deemed these powers to be outside of the LAF’s jurisdiction, following the 2015 protests. 

This expansion of authority constitutes a direct affront by special military courts on regular civil courts, and on the rights of civilian demonstrators. LAF personnel brought those arrested during the demonstrations to various LMI centers, where interrogations were conducted in violation of the law. Through these military-run interrogations, the authorities have been able to use special military courts to target anyone who opposes them, even though the law declares that the Military Court’s authority is limited to specific crimes in exceptional circumstances. This sort of conduct has worsened since 2015.


Which Laws Regulate the Parliamentary Police?

In comparison with the LAF and ISF, Lebanon’s other security organizations are responsible for a smaller percentage of the arrests that we were able to document, amounting to 3% of the total. Among those organizations are the PP, which detained at least 11 protesters during demonstrations held in front of Parliament. They then removed the detained protesters from the demonstration site and dragged many of them behind the barriers that cordoned off Nejmeh Square from the surrounding area. There, the detained protesters were brutally beaten and illegally interrogated before being turned over to the ISF. 

As part of these interrogations, PP collected protesters’ personal data and questioned their motives for protesting, showing special interest in their opposition to Nabih Berri, Speaker of Parliament. PP interrogators searched the contents of some protesters’ phones, as well as photographing a number of them and confiscating other personal belongings. 

Following an angry response from the public and the LCDP, PP issued several statements denying that its personnel performed any detentions at all, adding that the organization is not a law enforcement body, and that its authority is limited to maintaining security in the parliamentary compound.[12] The attacks by PP re-opened questions about what sort of legal framework exists for regulating this organization and how it’s personnel may be held accountable. To date, there is no specific law governing PP’s formation, its number of personnel, or its working methods. The only thing the law currently specifies is that the PP falls under the authority of the Speaker of Parliament.

We would also note that 4.5% of protesters and demonstrators were arrested by order of the public prosecutor or an investigating judge after they had been summoned for interrogation and questioning, and in some cases – 3% of total arrests – we were unable to identify which branch of the security establishment arrested these individuals.


3) What Kinds of Tactics Were Used By Lebanese Security Forces in Making Arrests?

Demonstrators were arrested in different ways. Most were arrested during the demonstrations themselves, whether individually or as part of a mass arrest while at demonstration sites or inside banks. Others were arrested in public spaces or during raids on their homes and places of work as part of arrests which sometimes more closely resembled kidnappings. Several protesters were arrested after being summoned for questioning by security forces or public prosecutors. Below we discuss two arrest tactics employed against demonstrators which were in violation of several laws. These tactics are 1) mass arrests while breaking up protests, and 2) arrests by violent kidnapping. In addition to the blatant legal violations on display during these arrests, many of them also showed disregard for the principles of necessity and proportionality. This applies to both the necessity of detaining the person in question, and the proportionality between the danger posed by that person and the measures security and judicial authorities used against them during their arrest and interrogation.


Mass Arrests



Of the demonstrators taken into custody, 62% were arrested during mass arrest operations (599 people). By “mass arrest,” we mean arrests of more than ten people at a time, either during a single demonstration or cluster of demonstrations in a single area, or immediately after a demonstration. Those arrested and taken into custody in groups of four to nine were 13%. These arrests were often accompanied by excessive use of force against protesters, even after they had been detained. It became clear that the authorities relied on these arbitrary mass arrests for three main reasons: to clear demonstrations; to discourage protesters and the public from exercising their right to protest; and to obtain a detailed picture of those participating in the uprising.


Swift and Arbitrary Punishment for Exercising the Right to Protest

Mass arrests took an authoritarian form which fundamentally contravened both the standards of criminal justice and the principle of proportionality in the use of force. This type of arrest often entails a violation of the ‘power to arrest’: it allows a given law enforcement body to deprive protesters their freedoms merely for assembling in a demonstration, rather than on suspicion of having committed a crime. In this way, mass arrests became a type of immediate preemptive punishment for exercising the right to protest.

During the uprising, Lebanese security forces used a similar method of mass arrests to the one they used to quash the protests in the summer of 2015. Both arrest campaigns were guided by a policy of “arrest first, determine the crime later”, and large numbers of demonstrators were arrested simply for being at demonstration sites. That the security forces used this tactic is demonstrated by the numerous innocent verdicts issued by the Military Court in cases related to the 2015 protests. There was such blatant abuse of the power to arrest at the time that one individual who did not even participate in the demonstrations was brought to trial before the Military Court.[13]

The security services continue to employ these illegal practices despite the very public efforts of the Court of Cassation. This was particularly apparent in cases relating to the protests outside the Danish Embassy in 2006, which confirmed that the presence of individuals at a protest where acts of vandalism are seen taking place “do not constitute sufficient grounds for saying that those individuals were aggressive or violent towards security services personnel, or that they did not disperse except following the use of force, in the light of an absence of other evidence to support this view”.[14] On this basis, there is no legal justification for these mass arrests, nor for any law enforcement body to intervene and restrict the right to protest. This includes occasions where there were violations during these arrests, particularly as the development of modern techniques of interrogation enable interrogation and legal proceedings after the protest has ended. 

Rather than putting a stop to these illegal practices, Lebanon’s public prosecutors and law enforcement officials have legitimized them: by keeping those rounded up in mass arrests in custody in order to “screen” them, and search for evidence of criminal activity after their arrest. As a result of this continued detention, those who had been subjected to violence during arrest were prevented from receiving the medical care they needed. Moreover, it gave the security services the opportunity to gather information about the arrested protesters by recording their details and taking testimonies. A number of those who were taken into custody by mass arrest reported that they did not commit any sort of vandalism or resist military and security personnel. They also claim that the officials investigating them were unable to present any sort of evidence that they had been involved in any illegal activity. Rather, the interrogations revolved around their political opinions and affiliations, their reasons and motives for participating in the demonstrations, and who had encouraged them or incited them to take part, as though opposing the regime and protesting against it are sufficient grounds for suspicion. It thus became clear that they were detained — and in some cases badly beaten and tortured — not because they were suspected of a crime, but because they had refused to leave the demonstrations and insisted on staying in the street to exercise their right to protest.


Major Mass Arrests

The mass arrest strategy was deliberately employed by the ISF and the LAF to target protests attended by thousands of people, especially in downtown Beirut, Jal El Dib (Metn), al-Zawq (Keserwan), Tripoli (North Governorate), and Tyre (South Governorate). Those arrested were held at the Emile Helou Police Station in Beirut, the Bahjat Ghanem military base in Qubbah (North Governorate), the Mohammad Zgheib base in Sidon (South Governorate), al-Liwa al-Hadi ‘ashr in An Naqqash (Metn), the Raymond el-Hayek base in Sarba (Keserwan), and the Shukri Ghanem base in Fayadieh (Mount Lebanon).

Beirut witnessed the first mass arrest incident during the first two days of the uprising (October 17 and 18), when ISF and riot police arrested approximately 129 demonstrators, having failed to stem the tide of protests that was pulsing throughout every part of Lebanon. After a group of young people in Tyre (South Governorate) broke into the Rest House Tyre Resort, the public prosecutor and security forces in the South Governorate brought over 36 young men into custody for property destruction and theft. This resort is associated with one of Lebanon’s most famously corrupt public personalities, Randa Berri, wife of Speaker Nabih Berri, who assumed the role in 1992 shortly after the end of the civil war.

After the resignation of Saad Hariri’s government on 29 October 2019, the demonstrations and protests in downtown Beirut grew in number to demand that an interim government be formed to deal with the economic crisis and tackle corruption. On November 19, ISF arrested 12 protesters at a demonstration in Riad Al Solh Square. They arrested 21 more between December 14 and 15, when protesters were attempting to reach Nejmeh Square and the Parliament building. PP personnel played a large role on those two occasions by arresting a number of protesters and detaining them inside the parliamentary compound, where they were subjected to very violent treatment.

In Jal El Dib and Zouk, between 5 November and 16 December 2019, the military performed a series of mass arrests that put over 110 protesters into custody. This campaign relied on the deliberate use of force to break up peaceful gatherings on public thoroughfares, on the pretense that this protected freedom of movement, a top priority for the political parties in power and a common theme in their public statements. In Saadnayel (Zahle-Beqaa), LAF arrested 16 protesters on 4 December 2019 for blocking roads. Prior to this, Tripoli (North Governorate) witnessed its first mass arrest campaign on November 26, during which 56 people were arrested. They were arrested for involvement in protests and property destruction in the vicinity of the Free Patriotic Movement headquarters and banks, as well as for blocking roads in Beddawi and engaging in confrontations with the military on Jumayzat Street and Al Nour Square.

After Hassan Diab was appointed to the presidency on 19 December 2020, protests around Parliament and the banks grew in response to the stalling of efforts to form a new government. The third week of 2020 (known as “the week of rage”) saw the broadest and most violent mass arrest campaigns. In Beirut, over 167 protesters were arrested in three major incidents: the first, known as “the night of the Hamra banks” occurred on Tuesday 14 January 2020, during protests around the Banque du Liban and other banks in the Hamra neighborhood; the second took place the following day during protests in front of Emile Helou Police Station in Mar Elias and Al Mazraa to demand the release of those arrested the day before; the third mass arrest then took place on Saturday January 19 in downtown Beirut near Parliament. The violence peaked on this day, when so many of the arrested protesters were hospitalized for their injuries that Beirut’s hospitals turned into military barracks and its police stations became emergency rooms.

After the formation of Hassan Diab’s government on 21 January 2020, there was a clear change in the ISF strategy for breaking up protests. They began to use a barrage of tear gas canisters and water cannons to push protesters away from the main demonstration sites and from areas surrounding government buildings while also reducing direct contact between protesters and security forces. During this time, ISF arrested 23 people at protests against the new government that broke out around the presidential palace. Thereafter, 22 more people were arrested during two protests, the first opposing the convening of parliamentary committees tasked with approving the public budget on January 27, and the second opposing the vote of confidence for the new government on February 11. On the second day of the confidence vote, LMI arrested 11 young men in Sidon on suspicion of involvement in an attack on MPs’ cars even though no complaints had been made by the MP implicating them in the incident. 


The Revolution Will Not Abandon Its Prisoners

The mass arrests described above led to the formation of broad campaigns of solidarity with those in custody which sought to prevent any one of the accused from being singled out. Protests were held outside police stations across Lebanon, attracting media attention. Lawyers acting on a pro-bono basis also gathered outside police stations to demand the right to meet with the arrested and provide them with legal counsel, in accordance with Article 47.

While many of the protesters who were put under arrest saw the experience as an expected part of their revolutionary struggle, the arbitrary mass arrests performed by Lebanese military and security forces also discouraged a number of people from returning to the streets for fear that they would be arbitrarily arrested again or pursued and tried in criminal court.


Kidnapping and Forced Disappearance 

We also monitored dozens of targeted arrests whereby protesters were taken into custody during raids on their homes or were forcibly taken from protest sites or other public spaces, such as streets, cafes, and workplaces. These arrests sometimes took the form of a violent kidnapping and were mostly carried out by LMI in Beirut, Baabda, Tripoli, and Sidon.

We argue that these arrests amounted to kidnappings in three key ways: 

First, they involved “abducting” protesters from demonstration sites and public places, despite the fact that security services had not caught them committing a crime and had no warrants for their arrests. Second, these operations were conducted violently by LMI agents who attacked their targets and beat them not only during the arrest and transport to detention centers, but also while they were being interrogated in custody. Most of those arrested in this way were interrogated while in considerable pain due to the violent treatment they had endured during the course of the arrest. Thirdly, LMI agents also threatened these protesters while arresting them: according to individuals whose witness statements we recorded, LMI agents threatened them with “disappearance” to “places where no one would be able to find or hear them”. 

Moreover, LMI agents prevented the individuals who were detained from seeking legal counsel, a right afforded to anyone who is arrested by Article 47 of Lebanon’s Criminal Code of Procedure. LMI agents also refused to communicate with the relatives of those they had arrested, and therefore failed to provide legal justifications for the arrests. For any arrest – which constitutes a deprivation of liberty – to be legal, the person in custody must be allowed to exercise their rights as outlined in Article 47.

The most famous ‘arrest-by-kidnapping’ incidents that we verified targeted four prominent figures in the October demonstrations in Beirut and Baabda. Two of these individuals were taken from within the crowds demonstrating in front of the presidential residence in Baabda (Mount Lebanon) and Beirut’s Fouad Chehab Bridge, better known as Ring Bridge. In the case of both these young men, their arrest was akin to a kidnapping: it was conducted by men in plainclothes who drew them away from the demonstration by asking “to speak in a quieter setting”, only to attack and brutally beat them far from the crowds before arresting and moving them to a detention center in an unknown and undisclosed location. 

Samer Mazeh and Ali Basal were similarly ambushed on Gemmayzeh Street in Beirut by men in plainclothes after leaving a demonstration on Ring Bridge. During the arrest, LMI agents refused to identify themselves while threatening and beating the young men with batons, before moving them to an unspecified location.

According to testimony from individuals who we interviewed, LMI systematically failed to comply with mandatory safeguards during the arrests that they conducted. This was the case whether the arrest was performed with a summons, during a raid on a house or workplace, at a demonstration, or in a public place. Some of the protesters arrested by LMI in Tripoli spent a week in custody before their location was announced and before they were given permission to communicate with family members or contact the LCDP. Indeed, the LCDP invoked the law of “missing and kidnapped people” for the first time since its enactment in 2018, by submitting missing persons reports to the Public Prosecutor. According to Law 105/2018 and Law 65/2017, the arrests described above involved crimes of kidnapping, forced disappearance, and torture.


4) How Long Were Demonstrators Detained, and What Were the Reasons for Arresting Them?


Detentions lasted2.5 days on average


The office of the public prosecutor authorized the release of the overwhelming majority of detained protesters, including those brought in as part of mass arrests, within 24 to 72 hours after the arrest. Nonetheless, more than 50 of those detained were referred to investigating judges after preliminary investigations were concluded, which extended the period of their pre-trial detention. The average duration of detentions in such cases was 30 days.


Longest period in pre-trial detention:

101 days; 93 days; 87 days; 84 days


One could argue that the relative brevity of detention times is a positive development compared with the mass arrests we documented during the 2015 protests. Yet this time, the arrested protesters often underwent numerous investigations and interrogations by several agencies, especially protesters who were detained by LAF. 

As a result, a significant amount of personal data was collected. This may be used to monitor protesters in the future. It is also worth noting here that some of the trials for participants in the 2015 movement are still open and ongoing. Additionally, the military courts set trial dates for several protesters arrested in the October 17 uprising, suggesting that even the protesters who were kept in custody for short periods will face military trials.


Reasons for Arrest: Protecting the Political-Financial Order… as the Military Oversteps Its Authority 


49% protest and refusal to break up protests; 7% other reason (various reasons); 4% lack of identity documents while heading to a protest; 4% criticizing the president of the republic and public administration/destruction of images of politicians and party banners; 3% resisting military and security forces; 12% destruction and burning of property and banks; 21% peaceful assembly on public roads.

In general, the real reasons for arresting protesters differed from the laws officially used by the public prosecutor to pursue them, either after charging them or after their release following preliminary investigations. We can discern as much both from the conditions of arrest and from the questions posed to protesters during interrogations according to their testimonies and statements by security officials.

Through our investigation into the circumstances behind specific arrests, it became clear that the primary impetus for many of these arrests was safeguarding the interests of Lebanon’s ruling financial-political regime. 

Of the arrests we documented, 49% were for “protesting and refusing to break up protests”, 21% were for “peaceful assembly on public thoroughfares” (i.e. blocking roads), and 12% were for destruction and burning of property and banks. Of the arrested demonstrators, 4% stated that the charges leveled against them during questioning were for criticizing either the president of the republic or other public bodies, and for destroying images and banners of politicians. In a blatant attempt by the LAF and other security forces to stop protesters from reaching major demonstration sites in the capital, another 4% of those arrested were charged with being out without proper identification documents while heading to protests in downtown Beirut on busses from the Beqaa and the North Governorate. Finally, only 3% of the arrested demonstrators reported being accused of resisting military and security personnel.

ISF leadership announced that in the months leading up to mid-January 2020, 289 attacks on banks had occurred along with 159 incidents of vandalism with spray paint (i.e. graffiti and tagging slogans on walls, especially banks) and 94 attacks on public and private property. This announcement, however, did not specify the number of persons arrested or arraigned for these violations.[15] Correspondence between the Legal Agenda and LAF leadership further reveals that the LAF, which had arrested 734 people by January 2020, carried out arrests in cases beyond their legal authority. LAF leadership stated that the reasons for arrest by their personnel included the following: “vandalism, attacking public and private property, photographing protests without a license and in a suspicious manner, roaming in the vicinity of the protests without proper identification documents, blocking roads, and extortion.” None of these are military crimes, and neither the LAF nor the Military Court has jurisdiction to investigate or prosecute them. The only charge on which protesters were arrested that falls within the jurisdiction of the Military Court was “attacking military and security forces.” Even in such cases, the Military Court violates the so-called “natural judge principle” and the right of civilians to be tried before a regular court.

 Furthermore, the investigating judge issued arrest warrants for detained protesters brought before it without due reason, and without making a case for the necessity of arresting them on remand. This was a blatant violation of Article 107 of Lebanon’s Criminal Code of Procedure and Article 8 of the Lebanese Constitution, which protect personal liberty and the freedom from being arrested or imprisoned other than by legal means, respectively.


Exaggerated Charges by Public Prosecutors

In parallel with the actions of the judicial-security establishment described above, public prosecutors brought criminal charges against more than 50 people among those who had been arrested. These individuals were kept in custody while the investigating judge completed the first-instance investigation. This unduly prolonged the length of time protesters spent in pre-trial detention. Most of these charges revolved around the Rest House Tyre Resort events and acts of vandalism and property destruction in Tripoli, Jounieh, and Zouk

The average duration of detention for those implicated in these particular incidents was 30 days. A demonstrator who was accused of various crimes during protests in Tripoli was detained for the longest period: over 101 days in pre-trial custody. The judiciary decided to detain these protesters beyond the maximum permissible period for detention in these types of cases. In particular, the requirement that anyone arrested be brought promptly before the court was not upheld: for some of those arrested for involvement in the Tripoli incident, this process took three weeks.

For protesters involved in these particular incidents, it was striking that public prosecutors attempted to bring felony charges whose potential punishments sometimes went as far as the death penalty. This included charges such as attempted murder of army or security personnel, arson, and incitement to civil war and sectarian conflict. In addition to these felonies, public prosecutors charged the arrested protesters with crimes such as vandalism and destruction of property, mistreatment of security personnel, and insulting the LAF. 

These charges are exaggerated, to say the least, and are disproportionate to the threat posed by the alleged actions of the accused. Moreover, they expose the public prosecutors’ bias in bringing charges which protect the interests of Lebanon’s corrupt ruling class. We argue that these charges were not made in the “public interest”, nor did they account for people’s fundamental freedoms and constitutional rights. In other words, it is clear that the public prosecutors acted as a pillar of the political regime, as well as its first line of defense. With the exception of the Tripoli incident, when the military issued a statement saying that 33 soldiers sustained injuries (without describing their severity), none of the other incidents led to any casualties or injuries that would warrant the public prosecutors’ crackdown in this way.

LAF leadership told Legal Agenda that, up until 5 December 2019, 281 soldiers sustained various injuries during the protests.[16] According to ISF leadership, meanwhile, 483 of its personnel had been injured by 16 January 2020. ISF, like the military, did not elaborate as to the seriousness of the injuries reportedly suffered by its agents.


5) What Kinds of Legal Violations Were Committed During Interrogations?


Drawing on the interviews we conducted with around 30% of the people whose arrest we confirmed during the first five months of the uprising (about 282 people), we documented a number of civil rights violations. These violations fall into seven major categories:

  • Violence and torture during detainment: after their arrests, some protesters were violently beaten upon arrival at detention centers and while being interrogated. They were also threatened, insulted, and verbally abused. This sort of treatment, which, in many cases amounted to torture and abuse, began during arrest and continued throughout protesters’ transport and detention. Such violence was also used during interrogations to force them to provide testimony or evidence.
  • Violation of Article 47: LAF and law enforcement personnel committed serious violations of the rights of detainees guaranteed by Article 47 of Lebanon’s Criminal Code of Procedure, especially the right to legal counsel and medical attention. The detained protesters were systematically denied any information about their rights and were not permitted to exercise them. Some of them reported that their interrogators did not allow them to read their statements, even though they were forced to sign them. Others reported that intelligence officers forced them to sign statements while blindfolded. These are crimes on par with kidnapping and constitute an overt assault on civil rights. 
  • Violation of the law protecting juveniles: while ISF followed Law 422/2002 relating to the special procedures for interrogation of minors, LMI officers unlawfully questioned detained minors without a legal representative or family member present.
  • Withholding medical care: officers prevented many detained protesters who had been beaten and tortured or who suffered from pre-existing conditions from receiving medical attention while in custody. Their health deteriorated as a result, and in some cases their lives were endangered. For example, one arrested protester reported that he had suffered a concussion during arrest and was undergoing a serious health crisis while in detention, yet he was unable to seek medical attention and was held in a cell with around 40 others. With the increase in protests and violent arrest campaigns, law enforcement — especially at Emile Helou Police Station, where most arrested protesters were held — had to call on the Red Cross to treat some of their prisoners and transport them to hospitals for further treatment. Some protesters who had been detained by LMI reported that they were seen by military doctors to determine if they were “fit to go to prison.” Yet these doctors did little more than ask them simple questions (e.g. if they were taking any medication or on drugs) before signing off on sending them to prison without properly examining their health or the impact of their injuries, or investigating their complaints. This raises questions about the responsibility of doctors (especially military doctors) and the medical sector more broadly in providing medical attention to victims of state torture and approving their detention in such states.
  • Repeated unofficial interrogations: several arrested protesters were interrogated repeatedly while in custody and moved between various security facilities without always being aware of their location. In a number of cases where the LAF had carried out the arrests, protesters were interrogated at least three times and moved between several LMI detention centers in different areas, before being taken to military police, and ISF. PP and intelligence officers also conducted “unofficial” interrogations with some of the detained protesters, where no official case was opened even as they were handed to the ISF or military police for official interrogations
  • Broad interrogations and illegal pledges: a number of protesters who had been arrested reported that the scope of interrogations was not limited to discussion of the immediate reasons for their arrest. Instead, they were asked about their political opinions and affiliations, their reasons for participating in the protests, and any actors who urged them to do so. Interrogators also called into doubt the protesters’ motives for opposing the government and discouraged them from returning to the streets in the future, thereby violating the protesters’ civil rights. Some also reported that their interrogators asked them to sign pledges to never protest again.
  • Invasion of privacy and phone searches: some security agents searched the phones of the detained protesters and used the stored information as evidence against them. In all such cases, the interrogators failed to present any sort of warrant or official order giving them permission to access the detained persons’ personal information. In some cases, this was done with the verbal approval of public prosecutors, and without any kind of order from a judge. These gross invasions of privacy often had repercussions for the victims’ personal and professional lives, as phones have become basic means of communication and work. For some of the protesters arrested for destruction and vandalism of banks, security agents used information taken from their phones’ location, CCTV cameras, and other data to track their movements.


Photo by Maher Kheshen


[1] Fawwaz Traboulsi, Social Classes and Political Power in Lebanon, Heinrich Boell Foundation – Middle East, 2014.

[2] Karim Nammour, “The Right to Resist and Rebel Against a Tyrannical Regime”, The Legal Agenda, 2 November 2019 [in Arabic].

[3] “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Maina Kiai, to the Human Rights Council”, (Twentieth Session), 21 May 2012, A/HRC/20/27, paragraph 41.

[4] Karim Nammour, “Legitimate Unrest and Popular Justice in Self-Defense”, The Legal Agenda, 5 March 2020 [in Arabic].

[5] On 2 December 2019 and 11 February 2020, the Legal Agenda submitted requests for official information about arrests and injuries to the ISF, SS, and GS departments. In violation of the right to information law, ISF and SS did not respond to our requests, whereas GS issued a response (correspondence no. 51537/s on 12 February 2020), “Response of the Court of Cassation’s Office of General Prosecution (…) regarding all interrogations conducted under this office’s observation.”

[6] The press conference alluded to here was convened by ISF Director-General Imad Osman, 16 January 2020.

[7] Correspondence no. 14458/ع.د/ا/ا/ا/ع.ق from military leadership to the Legal Agenda, 27 April 2020.

[8] Ghida Frangieh and Sarah Wansa, “How Did the Lebanese Authorities Repress the Right to Protest?”, The Legal AgendaLebanon, is. 32, 12 October 2015 [in Arabic]; “After the Demonstration on 8 November 2015, Total Defendants Before the Military Court: 54”, The Legal Agenda-Lebanon, is. 33, 4 December 2015.

[9] Lea Bou Khater and Rima Majed, “Lebanon’s 2019 October Revolution: Who Mobilized and Why?”, The Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship.

[10] “The Complete Results of the April 2020 Legislative Session (4): Suggestions Regarding General Freedoms and Rights, and Protection of the Environment ”, published by the Legal Agenda and the Lebanese Parliament Monitor, 26 April 2020.

[11] Wissam Lahham, “After the Lebanese Were Surprised by the Commission of the Military With Domestic Policing In 1991, We Ask “Where Is the Decree? Has Anyone Seen It?”’ The Legal Agenda, 18 May 2019 [in Arabic].

[12] “Parliamentary Police Leadership Deny Arresting Two Young Men”, National News Agency, 18 December 2019 [in Arabic]; “Parliamentary Police: We Did Not Intervene In the Demonstrators’ Mobilization; Our Mandate Was and Remains Protection of the Parliamentary Compound”, National News Agency, 6 February 2020 [in Arabic].

[13] Ghida Frangieh, “Rulings of Innocence and Lack of Jurisdiction: Lebanon’s Military Court Shies Away From Repressing the 2015 Movement”, The Legal Agenda, is. 49, 19 May 2017 [in Arabic]; Rania Hamzeh, “‘Infiltrators” of Summer 2015 Movement Innocent in Military Court”, The Legal Agenda, 17 July 2019 [in Arabic].

[14] Criminal Court of Cassation, cases no. 96 and 97 23/03/2006. 

[15] The press conference convened by ISF Director-General Imad Osman, 16 January 2020.

[16] Correspondence no. 14458/ع.د/ا/ا/ا/ع.ق from military leadership to the Legal Agenda, 27 April 2020.

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