BEIRUT: From 1945’s anti-colonial protests to the current October 17 Revolution, the Lebanese have rallied to the streets to protest against corruption and to express their demands. Throughout the years, one question remains: how is the state supposed to deal with these protests?
Multiple arrests and claims of torture have been raised over the past few days. While a number of lawyers are present to support those detained, some Lebanese remain oblivious to their rights in protests and gatherings.
Accordingly, Layal Sakr, co-founder of SEEDS for legal initiatives and a lawyer herself, held a workshop on freedom of assembly and expression in Lebanon. The workshop tackled people’s rights to protest, how to preserve these rights, and steps to consider if unlawfully detained.
“We have a pivotal role to play as law experts. Our workshop raised awareness on what the constitution considers as acceptable ways to protest as well as the rights to freedom of expression,” Sakr said.
Sakr explained that Lebanon abides by international treaties that protect people’s right to protest. Under Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), people have the full right to protest peacefully.
“Bureaucracy is usually a must before any protest. This includes informing the ministry, of the time, place, and number of protesters expected to participate in the gathering,” she said.
Those detained also have a right to remain silent until they see a lawyer and a right to reject physical and emotional abuse and if faced by any, to raise the issue.
“The constitution belongs to everyone and thus, it’s crucial for protesters to be aware of their basic rights,” said Joya Daccache, a law graduate attending the workshop.
Aside from protester’s rights, security forces have duties they must fulfill to meet international standards.
“Based on international standards, security forces are supposed to protect peaceful protesters, not attack them. Those who display aggressive behavior towards other protesters, the security forces, or public properties, are the ones who must be detained,” Sakr told Annahar.
Sakr explained that security forces have breached the declaration of human rights in several demonstrations by failing to distinguish peaceful protesters from those displaying aggressive behavior.
“The Lebanese state is discretionary when it comes to imposing the laws. They impose it on certain people and let others run free,” Ibrahim Ghazi, said expressing his view on the state’s bias in protests.
Although some rights were violated, Sakr stated that Lebanon remains better than neighboring countries in terms of freedom of assembly and expression.
“Look at Iraq and Egypt, their government cut off the internet and people were killed,” she said.
SEEDS has been educating citizens by setting up tents in areas like Tripoli and Zouk Mosbeh, with more workshops scheduled for the future across Lebanon.
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