Wednesday, September 17 marked the second round of the dialogue session, launched by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, between political leaders in Lebanon. This round of dialogue is the third of major talks between the March 8 and March 14 coalitions in the last decade and it is an attempt to reach common ground to end the presidential stalemate.
Wednesday also marked the use of uncontrollable violence, both from the state and thugs, against the civil society activists and protesters who were demonstrating against these sessions. For all of those who were on the streets on Wednesday, it was a very long and violent day.
Lebanon suffers from weak governance, poor infrastructure and daily electricity cuts, and has had no president for more than a year. In 2009, its parliament extended its term until 2017, with no elections, citing instability as a reason.
For weeks, thousands of Lebanese have been protesting under the umbrella of the You Stink movement, which kicked off calling for sustainable solutions to the waste problem and got people on the streets. The situation quickly escalated beyond trash towards addressing larger problems related to corruption within the current government.
Police Brutality and Targeted Arrests
At 9 a.m., a group of activists gathered in front of the Annahar building, next to the Martyr's square, to try and stop the political leaders from attending the dialogue session.
So that no one forgets, tomorrow at 9 a.m. in front of the Annahar building so that we try and stop them from reaching the parliament #YouStink #Escalation #WeWillContinue
Blogger Marina Chamma echoed the thoughts of the majority of the protesters who are opposing the dialogue sessions:
— Marina Chamma (@eyeontheeast) September 16, 2015
In their call for the rally on Wednesday morning, #YouStink described the dialogue sessions as illegitimate and unconstitutional:
We are all invited tomorrow to confront the Dialogue Table physically and vocally. Let us meet tomorrow Wednesday the 16th of September at 9 AM in front of the Annahar Building in order to close all the entrances leading to the illegitimate and unconstitutional Dialogue Table thus hampering the conferees from reaching their goals of dissolving our case and agreeing on our fate. NO for useless dialogues that abate the work of the State’s institutions.
Bring your pans, your eggs, your garbage and your veggies…#Escalation #YouStink
The protesters tried to remove the wire barriers installed by the police in front of Annahar building in an attempt to make their way towards the parliament. Akhbar Al Saha, an alternative media page that is covering the current demonstrations in Lebanon, reported on this attempt:
Now: The protesters around Annahar building are trying to remove the iron barriers #YouStink #Akhbar_AlSaha
The police responded to this attempt by surrounding the protesters and making its first arrests. Shortly after, clashes erupted and the protesters were faced by uncontrollable violence.
Activist Hassan Chamas posted later that day on his Facebook account the following photo:
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Mohamad Najem, the co-founder of SMEX, tweeted the names of the activists under arrest:
— Mohamad محمد (@monajem) September 16, 2015
So did the journalist and activist MoeAli Nayel:
A tweet from blogger and Global Voices author Joey Ayoub shows that the arrests were targeted. He quoted Imad Bazzi, one the YouStink members, saying:
— Joey Ayoub جووي أيوب (@joeyayoub) September 16, 2015
Journalist Youmna Fawaz also tweeted about the arrests and mentioned that these arrests were not at all arbitrary. She claims the police were following a list — they knew who to arrest:
Targeted arrests of protesters, who are then being transferred to El Helou Barrack #YouStink & #BadnaNhasseb groups are urging people to join them in the Parliament's vicinity
The wave of arrests didn't stop; a total of 43 protesters were arrested and many more brutally attacked:
— AUB Secular Club (@secular_club) September 16, 2015
The committee of lawyers that was put in place to offer free legal help and represent those who get arrested in the demonstrations announced on their Facebook page that a total of 43 arrests were made on Wednesday.
Journalists were also beaten and arrested:
— Alex Rowell (@disgraceofgod) September 16, 2015
Raida Hatoum compiled some photos showing the brutality of the police through out the day:
Even the huger strikers got their share of the state love. Waref Sleiman, who was on a two-week hunger strike, was attacked and later arrested by the police.
— Joey Ayoub جووي أيوب (@joeyayoub) September 16, 2015
— Sam Dagher (@samdagher) September 16, 2015
As I said, Wednesday was a long day for all the protesters. After the brutal attacks by the riot police and the targeted arrests, a group of civilians attacked the tents of hunger strikers and the protesters gathered around them because they were chanting against Nabih Berri, the Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon and the head of the Amal Movement. Berri's thugs attacked the peaceful protesters with rocks, knifes and anything else they could get their hands on. They attacked the protesters twice, while the police was watching. Investigative journalist and blogger Habib Battah documented the attack: The thugs didn't spare anyone. They even attacked journalists on the scene. Kareem Chehayeb, blogger and co-founder of Beirut Syndrome, tweeted:
Essam Sahmarani added:
— Essam Sahmarani (@esahmarani) September 17, 2015
Speedy recovery for our colleague photographer Hussein Beidoun who was hit by a stone in front of the hunger strike tent while he was carrying out his professional duty
Lawyer and Legal Agenda founder Nizar Saghieh announced that they documented all the attacks and they will be pressing charges:
The Daily Star also published another video showing the civilians who clearly identify themselves as supporters of Speaker Nabih Berri attack the protesters in front of the Ministry of Environment.
It is worth noting that this is the first time female police officers participate in the oppression, beating and arresting the protesters. This only proves, along with the targeted arrests, that the police are obeying clear premeditated orders
Finally, all the groups of the popular civic movement called for a protest this Sunday, September 20 at 5 p.m. that will start from Bourj Hammoud and end in Nejmeh Square. In parallel, the Lebanese diaspora is organizing protests in Paris, London and NewYork, in solidarity with the movement in Lebanon.
For-up to-date information on the what's happening on the street follow Akhbar el Saha, in both English and Arabic, Beirut Syndrome & the official pages of #YouStink, #BadnaNhasseb & #AlSha'bYoureed .
Stay tuned for more Global Voices Online coverage.