In Lebanon, army courts target anti-government protesters

BEIRUT: 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 monopolized 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 criticizing 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% of my hearing in my left ear.”

“I am still traumatized,” 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. - AP al>