Protesters and police officers are seen in Beirut, Lebanon, on January 15, 2020. Police attacked and detained journalists covering the recent protests in Beirut. (AP/Hussein Malla)
Protesters and police officers are seen in Beirut, Lebanon, on January 15, 2020. Police attacked and detained journalists covering the recent protests in Beirut. (AP/Hussein Malla)

Journalists assaulted, detained while covering protests in Beirut

Beirut, January 16, 2020 — Lebanese authorities should investigate recent attacks against journalists covering protests in Beirut by both police and demonstrators, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Since January 14, police officers have harassed, attacked, or detained journalists covering protests in Beirut, according to news reports and social media posts by local journalists.

Protests against slow economic growth and alleged government corruption have been taking place sporadically in Beirut since October 2019, following a government move to enact new taxes on tobacco, gasoline, and digital data, according to news reports.

“Journalists in Lebanon should be able to cover protests without the fear that they will be detained or attacked by a police officer,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Lebanese authorities should investigate allegations that police beat journalists, and should take steps to ensure that such actions do not happen again.”

Yesterday, police officers beat and detained Greg Demarque, a French national and a photographer for the Beirut-based Executive Magazine, according to a report by Skeyes, a local press freedom group. Demarque was covering clashes between protesters and police when a police officer tried to snatch his camera and, when he refused to stop reporting, officers beat him and took him to a nearby police station, according to Skeyes.

Demarque’s wife, Kholoud Yassin, told Skeyes that he was released this morning into a Beirut hospital and was not charged. CPJ could not immediately determine how severely he was beaten or the reason for his hospitalization.

Police yesterday also briefly detained Hussein Beidoun, a photographer for the London-based news website Al-Araby al-Jadeed, who was covering a sit-in at the Al-Helou police station, according to a report by his employer.

Beidoun told Skeyes that police only detained him for a few minutes, and briefly took away his camera but gave it back without any pictures deleted.

When riot police intervened to disrupt the protest at the Al-Helou police station yesterday, officers assaulted a group of journalists including Al-Jadeed TV reporter Hassan al-Rifaai and camera operator Samir al-Okdah, freelance photographer Hassan Shaaban, and Joseph Nicola, a camera operator for the Lebanese broadcaster MTV, according to reports by Al-Araby al-Jadeed and Skeyes.

In a video of the incident posted to Twitter by Al-Jadeed TV, riot police can be seen pushing and hitting journalists, including al-Rifaai and al-Okdah, who are wearing press vests and shouting that they are members of the media. In another video, uploaded to YouTube by MTV, officers can be seen pushing and hitting Nicola while he identifies himself as a journalist.

In posts on Twitter, Shaaban wrote that officers attacked him and threatened to break his camera.

Officers also fired a tear gas canister that hit Khaled al-Nuaimi, an Al-Jadeed TV camera operator, in the foot, according to the reports by Al-Araby al-Jadeed and Skeyes.

On January 14, at a previous protest at the Al-Helou police station, riot police beat Reuters photographer Essam Abdullah, according to a report by local news website Al-Modon, which included a photo of one police officer hitting Abdullah with his hand, while another prepared to hit him with a baton.

The officers broke Abdullah’s camera; the journalist was taken to the American University Hospital after the attack, but did not have serious injuries, according to that report.

At a different protest on January 14, in front of Lebanon’s Central Bank, masked protesters attacked beat al-Rifaai and Al-Jadeed TV camera operator Zakaria al-Khatib, according to an interview al-Rifaai gave with his employer. Al-Rifaai was taken to a local hospital after the attack and was later released, according to news reports.

In a news conference today, acting Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan denied having ordered police to assault journalists or prevent them from covering the protests, and attributed the violence against journalists to the fact that police officers are overworked.

Neither the Lebanese Interior Ministry nor General Directorate of General Security immediately replied to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.