The anti-government uprising that swept across Lebanon two years ago might be a distant memory to many in the country, now struggling with compounding economic crises that have paralysed much of public life, but that is not the case for the dozens of protesters who are currently awaiting trial at military courts.More than 200 people – including six minors – who were detained and released during the protests were summoned many months later to the military justice system, accused of engaging in acts of violence against security forces, according to the watchdog Legal Agenda. Most of them have yet to be tried.
In September 2020, the dancer received a call from the Lebanese military inviting him over for a “cup of coffee”, a common term security agencies use when summoning someone for questioning. His home had been destroyed in the deadly explosion at Beirut’s port the previous month that devastated much of the capital.
“I said, ‘You’re joking! Military court?’” Paulikevitch recalled. “I lost my home in the blast, I lost my money, and I can’t fix my home because the banks won’t let me withdraw my money – and now you’re sending me to military court?”
At that point, Paulikevitch and the other two protesters he was detained with would be the first protesters from the uprising with scheduled hearings at the Lebanese military justice system. But the hearing was postponed, and the military prosecution did not contact them to schedule a new hearing until the following May.
The trio were then questioned in the same month, in the presence of two lawyers.
“They always try to create a conspiracy that protesters know each other and conspire together,” Paulikevitch recalled. “They would keep asking how we knew each other and so on. But once we told them the truth, we didn’t fall into the trap.”
In the end, all three were cleared. Ghida Frangieh, a lawyer at Legal Agenda who was present at the questioning, was not surprised.
Branding the prosecutions “abusive”, Frangieh said she believed they are politically motivated. “In this case, it’s to suppress the opposition.”
The youth-led protest movement that came to life on October 17, 2019, saw hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to demand political change and economic reform away from the country’s sectarian ruling parties and banks.
The Lebanese pound has lost about 90 percent of its value over the past two years and today, about three-quarters of the population live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet.
Mohammad Bzeih, a member of the Lebanese Communist Party, was arrested in February 2020 while blocking one of the roads leading to Parliament with dozens of other protesters.