Wed | Jan 27, 2021

Army courts target anti-gov’t protesters

Published:Monday | November 23, 2020 | 12:07 AM
Khaldoun Jaber, a Lebanese anti-government activist, stands beside the concrete wall that was installed by security forces to prevent protesters from reaching the parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon.
Khaldoun Jaber, a Lebanese anti-government activist, stands beside the concrete wall that was installed by security forces to prevent protesters from reaching the parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon.
Lebanese anti-government activists protest outside a Lebanese court, demanding an improvement of the judicial independence, in Beirut, Lebanon, on Wednesday, June 17.
Lebanese anti-government activists protest outside a Lebanese court, demanding an improvement of the judicial independence, in Beirut, Lebanon, on Wednesday, June 17.
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BEIRUT (AP):

Khaldoun Jaber was taking part in an anti-government protest near the presidential palace outside Beirut last November when several Lebanese intelligence officers in plainclothes approached and forcibly took him away.

The demonstration was part of a wave of protests sweeping Lebanon against corruption and misrule by a group of politicians who have monopolised power since the country’s civil war ended three decades ago.

Jaber didn’t know it then, but Lebanese security forces targeted him because of his social media posts criticising President Michel Aoun. What followed were 48 harrowing hours of detention, during which security officers interrogated him and subjected him to physical abuse, before letting him go.

“I was beaten, harmed psychologically and morally,” Jaber said. “Three of my teeth were broken and I lost 70 per cent of my hearing in my left ear.”

“I am still traumatised,” he added.

A year after mass protests roiled Lebanon, dozens of protesters are being tried before military courts, proceedings that human-rights lawyers say grossly violate due process and fail to investigate allegations of torture and abuse. Defendants tried before the military tribunal say the system is used to intimidate protesters and prop up Lebanon’s sectarian rulers.

Around 90 civilians have been referred to the military justice system so far, according to Legal Agenda, a human-rights group based in Beirut.

“We expect many more people to be prosecuted,” said Ghida Frangieh, a lawyer with the group.

The trials underscore the growing perils of activism in Lebanon, where a string of court cases and judicial investigations against journalists and critics has eroded the country’s reputation for free speech and tolerance in a largely autocratic Arab world.

Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm did not respond to a request for comment. Lebanese officials typically do not address the question of why civilian cases are being tried in the military court system. Security forces have denied beating and torturing protesters and activists in detention.

Frangieh said that security forces arrested around 1,200 people from the beginning of the anti-government uprising in October 2019 through to the end of June. Lebanese authorities have prosecuted around 200 of them, including those referred to the military judiciary, the monitoring group has found.

Two months after his arrest, Jaber received an official notice saying military prosecutors were charging him with assaulting security forces at the Baabda Palace when the plainclothes agents detained him.

“I was shocked when I was called to the military tribunal,” Jaber said.

The trial did not take place until October 7, when the military court declared Jaber innocent of assaulting security officers, which is a military crime under Lebanese law, but said it lacked jurisdiction over a second charge, that of insulting the president.