Protesters tents removed; Syrian refugees face discriminatory Coronavirus emergency measures

Peaceful Assembly

Protesters practise social distancing during demonstration

On 10th March 2020 activists organised a human chain around the Palace of Justice in Beirut to protest the politicisation of judicial appointments. However, due to the Coronavirus (COVID- 19) the demonstrators took protective measures by wearing masks and gloves. They also practised social distancing.

Protesters tents removed overnight

Following the order of the Lebanese Minister of Interior on Friday 27th March and on Saturday 28th March 2020, security forces destroyed and removed tents erected by protesters in downtown Beirut. Activists have been camped out in the square since the Lebanese revolution began in October 2019. The statement issued by the Press Office showed that the act was not linked to any measures taken against COVID-19 but rather was due to “increasing attacks on private property and passers-by in the area where the civil movement’s sit-in tents are established, the latest of which was a problem that occurred with a foreign country ambassador.”

The removal of the tents was also justified as being in line with the government’s decision on 26th March 2020 to impose a curfew between 7pm and 5am due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The statement added: "The Minister of Interior and Municipalities renews his support for the rightful livelihood demands of the peaceful movement” and that actions to sanitise tents were taken as an act of goodwill aimed at “protecting peaceful demonstrators from the threat of the Coronavirus”.

Speaking to the CIVICUS Monitor, activist and lawyer Ali Abbas, who was present when the tents were demolished, said:

“They came suddenly and told everyone that they have ten minutes to go...they left the broken tents overnight. They didn’t let anyone take their tents or let anyone take their belongings. Some people had to find housing; others slept on the streets.”

Riot police used some excessive force and about 10 protesters were detained overnight, said Abbas. 

Protesters and activists are now prioritising the combat against the Coronavirus, but that the revolution “will resume after this is over”. In the meantime the revolution is continuing online through social media, he said.

He added that activists had taken precautionary measures by sanitising their tents frequently.

As quoted in Naharnet, Abbas, said: 

There is an intention for power abuse and also an intention to take advantage of the current [Coronavirus] situation.

Expression

Doctor’s medical licence revoked

Many activists have now turned their fight towards combatting the spread of the Coronavirus. For example, Dr Hadi Mourad criticised the lack of safety measures put in place by the Minister of Public Health during his appearance on a televised programme. He exposed the practical violations of the ministry and the Minister himself, who sought to promote uncertified Iranian medicine and products in the Lebanese market. As a result, Dr Mourad was summoned for criminal investigation and he later learned that his medical licence to practice was withdrawn. A petition was launched in solidarity with the doctor, calling on the Lebanese government to reverse the decision and to report the matter to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The investigation into Dr Mourad’s conduct has been postponed.

Restrictions on freedom of expression have been used as a tool by authorities since protests began. As noted by Human Rights Watch, from the start of the protests on 17th October 2019 to 6th March 2020, security agencies summoned at least 29 people for interrogation concerning free speech charges, including insult and defamation.

“Instead of heeding the protesters’ demands for accountability, those in power in Lebanon are bringing criminal charges against activists and journalists exposing corruption and peacefully expressing their opinions on social media,” - Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
Local broadcast office attacked

On 29th March 2020 unidentified attackers fired shots at the house and office of Shuaib Zakaria, a reporter for local broadcaster Radio Delta North and the news website Madinati as reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a statement. Zakaria has reported the case to the police.

Association

Consultation on Kafala System

On 11th March 2020 the government began consultations on the country’s abusive Kafala sponsorship system. Under this system, the residency of a foreign worker is dependent on sponsorship from the employer. This means that workers are not guaranteed any protection under Lebanese laws and are often subject to abuse. In a recent example of abuse, a 23-year old domestic worker took her own life after being physically abused by her employer.

In a statement, Amnesty International called on the Lebanese government to protect the rights of migrant workers.

The ongoing economic crisis in Lebanon has exacerbated the situation for migrant workers. Many have reported that the value of their salaries has decreased by around a third because of the currency crash....The Lebanese government must seize this opportunity to urgently reform the kafala system, and take this step towards improving migrant workers’ lives,” - Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s MENA Regional Director.
Discriminatory emergency measures enforced for Syrian refugees

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), as part of the Coronavirus emergency measures about 21 municipalities have introduced restrictions which discriminate against Syrian refugees. The restrictions impose a curfew for Syrian refugees only and go beyond the national government’s nationwide curfew. Refugees also report a lack of access to healthcare and information.

Restrictions on Syrian refugees include:

  • The Brital municipality in Baalbek announced that Syrians can only move around between 9am and 1pm to do “necessary tasks”. If caught violating this, they may face legal measures, or their ID documents may be confiscated.
  • In the Kfarhabou municipality, northern Lebanon, a curfew was set for Syrians between 3pm and 7am.
  • In the Darbaashtar municipality, northern Lebanon, Syrians are “prohibited” from leaving their homes or receiving visitors – without any exceptions.
“There is no evidence that extra curfews for Syrian refugees will help limit the spread of COVID-19...The coronavirus does not discriminate and limiting the spread and impact of COVID-19 in Lebanon requires ensuring that everyone is able to access testing and treatment centres,”- Nadia Hardman, refugee rights researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch.