At least two civilians have appeared before military courts in Lebanon in recent days, prompting fresh concerns over authorities’ attempts to stamp out dissent in the country. Both men face charges related to their involvement in the protest movement currently sweeping Lebanon.
Activist Hassan Yassine, who the Internal Security Forces (ISF) arrested during a protest in Beirut on January 22, 2020, has been charged by the military prosecutor with “forcefully resisting security forces.” He appeared before the Military Tribunal on February 3. The Lawyers’ Committee for the Defense of Protesters said that a forensic doctor who examined Yassine while in detention found his body bore marks of abuse, which the committee say resulted from the ISF beating him during his arrest and before his interrogation at the El Helou police station.
Another man from Tripoli, Nour Chahine, has been charged with attempting to kill a member of the army and with “resisting the security forces” in front of Beirut’s parliament. Chahine turned himself in to the military intelligence branch in Tripoli on December 25, 2019 and has been detained at the Defense Ministry and Military Police branch in Rayhaniyya ever since. According to the Lawyers’ Committee for the Defense of Protesters, Chahine was not allowed to contact his family or meet with a lawyer before his interrogation. He first appeared before the Military Tribunal on January 31, and before a military investigative judge on February 4. During his first hearing, Chahine alleged that he was tortured while being interrogated at the Defense Ministry.
A 2017 Human Rights Watch investigation revealed the many due process and international law violations inherent in trying civilians before military courts in Lebanon. Many of the judges are military officers appointed by and subordinate to the defense minister, undermining the independence of the court. Those who have stood trial at military courts describe incommunicado detention, interrogations without a lawyer, ill-treatment and torture, the use of confessions extracted under torture, decisions issued without an explanation, seemingly arbitrary sentences, and a limited ability to appeal. Defendants, lawyers, and human rights groups all say state authorities use the military court’s jurisdiction over civilians to intimidate or retaliate for political reasons and to stamp out dissent.
Military courts have no business trying civilians. Lebanon’s parliament should end this troubling practice by passing a law to remove civilians from the military court’s jurisdiction entirely.