On August 13, Thursday, the Lebanese parliament approved the state of emergency that was imposed by the outgoing government a day after the deadly chemical explosion at the Beirut port on August 4. Under the emergency, approved till August 21, the army has been granted special wide-ranging powers.
According to Lebanese law, an emergency lasting more than eight days has to get the approval of parliament. It will also have to be renewed after August 21.
Under the state of emergency, the Lebanese army and other security personnel will be empowered to close down assembly points, declare curfew and prevent people from gathering. The media can also be censored from reporting.
Other powers accorded to the army during the emergency period include sanction for arbitrary arrests of civilians and sending them to trials in military court if a national security threat is perceived. Critics believe that these powers will likely be used to target protesters. The army is authorized to pick up suspected protesters from their homes or keep them under house arrest, based on its assessment of security threat.
Lebanese people and human rights organizations have strongly denounced the parliament’s decision to approve the emergency. Protesters accuse the political establishment of curtailing civil and political liberties, and trying to cover up the government’s negligence and failure to prevent the chemical explosion.
Human rights organizations have alleged that there is a design to persecute protesters instead of tackling more pressing issues that need government attention and redressal. Using the pretext of ‘security threat’ and ‘national security’, extreme powers have been granted to the security establishment in order to clamp down on the anti-government protests, which have been regularly taking place in Lebanon since October last year.
Concerns have also been raised by legal experts over the prospect of trying civilians in military courts, which, according to them, does not meet international legal standards and due process. Civil society members, lawyers, activists, and others, have also expressed anger that the government and army, instead of aiding the blast victims and their families or working on rebuilding and reconstruction of the capital city, have used the tragedy to persecute the opposition and quell the protests.