Today was the second day of the National Dialogue between Lebanon’s political leaders. Just like last week, the roads around the Lebanese parliament and Grand Serail were blocked, and hundreds of riot police were all over downtown Beirut. The #YouStink movement announced that they will protest as they did last week. Activists and protesters primarily gathered in Martyrs’ Square near the Annahar newspaper building. It seemed like it was going to be a relatively quiet day; most of them were holding signs and chanting, and others were talking to news reporters and journalists.
— Beirut Syndrome (@BeirutSyndrome) September 16, 2015
Police Brutality And Mass Arrests
It wasn’t long before the police tried to disperse the protesters, even though they were doing nothing to cause any trouble. They first broke the eggs that #YouStink protesters brought with them to throw at politicians’ convoys that were on their way to the meeting before arresting several activists. The number eventually added up to almost 40.
— Kareem C (@kareemvots) September 16, 2015
While the police didn’t resort to teargas, rubber bullets, and water canons, they didn’t hold back their batons. Many were rushed off in ambulances due to injuries, and several protesters who were arrested were clearly injured (such as in the image above). It also looked like they were trying to target the hunger strikers and some of the more vocal activists. Hunger striker Waref Sleiman was one of the arrested protesters. Like the others who were arrested, he was non-violent the entire time, and was arrested when he was standing near the police. There were also incidents of journalists getting hit by the police, notably Hussein Beidoun from Al Araby Al Jadeed as well as a case where an officer in civilian clothing tried to snatch an activist in an ambulance to arrest him. Perhaps he was on that list as well.
The video below shows an activist being arrested after verbally confronting the police. Many protesters tried to appeal to the police, who themselves suffer from socioeconomic hardship. However, that has changed, seeing as that the police have repeatedly continued to follow orders to attack and arrest peaceful protesters. There have been at least 2 reported cases of minors being arrested as well.
Here are some pictures we took of the police violence on peaceful protesters. Images courtesy of Beirut Syndrome Managing Director and Writer, Sarah Shmaitilly.
Thugs Of The Establishment
Things unfortunately became worse for the #YouStink protesters as they faced more violence. This time it was from a group of civilians who trashed the hunger strikers’ campsite near the Ministry of Environment, and attacked protesters with rocks. Many witnesses told news reporters that some carried bottles and knives as well. Those individuals turned out to be supporters of the Amal Movement, whose leader Nabih Berri has been Speaker of Parliament since 1992. While the Amal Movement denied any involvement with this incident, witnesses told LBCI news that they attacked them after one protester chanted a slogan against Berri, and one person who was part of that group admitted on television that they were upset at those particular chants. One of the more severely injured #YouStink protesters is Yehia Shreim, who collapsed and struggled to move after he was hit with a huge rock on his chest. He was rushed to the hospital.
What about the riot police? They stepped aside and watched everything happen, and interfered after a while. Many of these injuries could have been avoided.
But There Is Hope For #YouStink
Despite the police brutality, mass arrests, and other attempts of intimidating the protesters, many more people joined the rally after the #YouStink movement called for an open sit-in until the prisoners are freed and their demands are met. One activist, Assaad Thebian said, “We gave the state a chance, and they failed us. As promised, we will escalate with more non-violent civil disobedience until our demands are met.”
While people gathered at Riad El Solh Square, others went over a few blocks to the Ministry of Environment and helped the hunger strikers set up a new camp. This time, they brought their own tents to camp alongside them. What was previously 5-6 tents became almost 30.
Prisoner solidarity protests took place at the different prisons that protesters were held in, including in Gemmayze, Achrafieh, and Mar Elias. All 38 protesters were eventually released; however, many of the arrested from previous protests, including minors, are still in prison. Legal activists have been trying to release them by bailing them out, and their families have been protesting almost daily outside the Ministry of Interior.
Our Two Cents
It is clear that non-violent civil disobedience is necessary at this point. Sit-ins, general strikes, and other actions are highly recommended to push the elite to have our demands met. The #YouStink movement has done the right thing to take this step.
We are alarmed by the mass arrests and police brutality and have never endorsed any rhetoric that is friendly to the police and security apparatus. While it is understandable that some protesters have sympathized with the socioeconomic struggles of the police and have called on them to drop their weapons and join the protesters, it no longer makes sense to do so after they agree to follow orders to attack peaceful protesters time and time again. Had they had different opportunities in life, would they have opted to work for the riot police? Probably not.
Finally, while we are happy about the different movements other than #YouStink that have focused on a wide variety of issues, it’s important that they all stay well-connected and use their skills and resources together for a more effective platform, wider outreach, and ultimately a bigger impact.
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