Lebanese authorities fail to protect the right to peaceful assembly during the Freedom March of 30 September 2023

November 06, 2023

In this analysis, we argue that Lebanese authorities failed to protect - and in some instances, violated - the right to peaceful assembly during a large protest in Beirut held on September 30, 2023. Referring to a letter of allegation submitted to the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of peaceful assembly and on freedom of expression, we reiterate our call on Lebanese authorities to investigate the matter.

Protesters and the Internal Security Forces in Beirut - September 30, 2023 © Courtesy of The Coalition to Defend Freedom of Expression in Lebanon.

On October 30, 2023, a group of International and Lebanese NGOs submitted an allegation letter to two UN mandate holders concerning the human rights violations that happened during the Freedoms March that took place in Beirut on September 30, 2023.

Background information

At a time when Lebanon is facing a major economic crisis, Lebanese authorities are increasingly suppressing dissenting voices. In recent months, attacks on freedoms of expression, and assembly, have escalated at an unprecedented rate.

There has been a recent emergence of civilian groups physically assaulting people in public spaces. Notable examples include attacks on cafes in the areas of Mar Mikhael[1], Beirut, in August 2023 and Sour[2], South Lebanon, in September 2023. However, these attacks have yet to be investigated.

This violence and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators reflects the erosion of the rule of law in the country, whereby the government’s inaction against such violent actors enables them to assert dominance in public spaces.

In recent years, the authors of the allegation letter documented several violations to the right of freedom of assembly including. The riot police, the Lebanese army and non-state actors have repeatedly used excessive violence against protesters, more recently after the breakout of the 2019 anti-government protests.

Protests can be sometimes dispersed by the security forces using excessive use of force. For instance, in January 2022, ISF reportedly used force to disperse protests that turned violent over the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions, exacerbated by Covid-19 lockdown measures, in Tripoli. They fired teargas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition at protesters, injuring hundreds and killing one protester[3].

In June 2022, Lebanon’s caretaker interior minister, Bassam al-Mawlawi, issued an unlawful directive instructing security forces to ban pro-LGBTQ+ events. Despite a court order in November 2022 suspending the directive, al-Mawlawi issued a second directive banning any “conference, activity, or protest related to or addressing homosexuality.”

Freedom March

On September 30, 2023 at 4 p.m., a group of 30 associations, political groups, and media organisations was supposed to organise a peaceful protest in Riad Al-Solh Square, located in downtown Beirut.

The protest aimed to voice concerns against the escalating repression of fundamental freedoms. However, what began as a peaceful gathering turned into a violent assault against both the protesters and the journalists who were covering the event.

Leading up to the Freedom March, a campaign of incitement against the protest was carried out, led by public[4], religious, and political figures. This campaign vilified the organisers and participants and falsely claimed that the protest aimed to “promote deviancy”, referring to the promotion of homosexuality, although the protest did not raise any demands related to LGBTQ+ rights in Lebanon.

The original plan for the march was to begin from Riad Al-Solh Square in Beirut's city center and proceed towards the Ministry of Interior in Hamra, Beirut. However, due to the security threats resulting from the incitement campaign, the protesters opted instead for a sit-in at Riad Al-Solh Square. This decision was notably made after the Internal Security Forces (ISF), who had agreed to protect the protesters, recommended that the protesters limit themselves to a sit-in due to the ISF’s inability to protect the march.

The ISF were present at the protest, along with members of the anti-riot police, the Parliament police (who intervened later), and the Lebanese army (who also intervened at a later stage). It should be noted that the organisers notified the authorities of the protest in accordance with article 3 of the Public Assemblies Law, but their request was not registered at the Ministry of Interior. However, the ISF informed the organisers that it would ensure the safety of the sit-in as a result of this notification[5].

According to testimonies and footage of the protest gathered by the authors of the present communication, dozens of young men on motorcycles, armed with sticks, surrounded the protesters and journalists and proceeded to threaten, insult, and physically assault them.

Journalists were specifically targeted[6] while they were covering the event. Individuals attempting to reach or leave the protest area were also attacked[7], resulting in two individuals being hospitalized after being injured. The assailants were associated with various religious extremist groups and were primarily opposed to LGBTQ+ rights. Media reports identified the attackers as members of Islamist groups from Tariq al-Jedideh in Beirut (a group known as the National Front for the fight against the promotion of moral deviancy) and Beirut’s southern suburbs, as well as militants from a Christian group known as “Soldiers of God”.

The attacks on the Freedom March occurred in the presence of the ISF, who appear not to have taken adequate measures to protect the protesters and journalists.

Even more concerning, one video reviewed by Amnesty International shows three ISF members beating a protester who was urging them to stop the attackers. In two other videos, ISF members can be seen harassing journalists verbally and physically and ordering them to stop filming the attacks. In several videos, ISF members are seen making feeble attempts to separate the protesters and the attackers, mostly in vain[8]. Protesters and journalists also reported that some security officers on the ground clearly expressed their disapproval of the protest and its demands, indicating an unwillingness to protect it and an approval of the counter protest’s violence.

The attack persisted for more than three hours until the army finally intervened to secure the evacuation of protestors in armored police vehicles. Inside the vehicles it was extremely hot, and more than seventeen women were lacking enough air, one of them struggling to breathe. The attackers surrounded the vehicles, banged on its windows and doors screaming insults at the besieged protesters. After one hour, the police vehicles were able to drive them outside Beirut, where they were disembarked in Dbayeh and Antelyias, around 10 km north of Beirut. Protesters reported that motorcycles followed the police vehicles for several kilometers outside of Beirut.

Several protesters who were attacked and beaten told Amnesty International that they are considering filing complaints but are still contemplating the risks they may face. A lawyer supporting the protesters told the organisation that people were “rightfully afraid[9].” 


The submitting organisations argued that the Lebanese authorities have failed to respect their obligations arising from the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly enshrined in articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as article 13 of the Lebanese constitution.

The authorities also failed to fulfill their duty to prohibit the advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, in accordance with article 20 (2) of the ICCPR.

During the Freedom March, the Lebanese authorities neither prevented nor stopped the violations committed by the hostile groups, nor did they separate them from the protestors, failing to provide adequate protection to the protestors exercising their fundamental freedoms. They also failed to protect the journalists while they were on duty.

More specifically, the security forces failed to take adequate measures to protect protesters and journalists through dedicating sufficient resources to protect the protesters in advance and refusing to allow protesters and journalists to reach the protest area through safe roads.

The authorities advised protesters and journalists to exit the protest area through unsafe roads and failed to remove or arrest assailants who had in flagrante physically aggressed protesters and journalists. They refrained from assisting some protesters who were verbally and physically assaulted and in addition that some security members harassed journalists to stop them from filming.

Furthermore, none of the relevant ministries, public prosecution offices, or the Internal Security Forces have issued any explanatory statements regarding the assault. Despite the efforts of some of the authors of the allegation letter to contact ISF, they have received no response.

In addition, although the perpetrators of the attacks have publicly displayed their actions on social media and their identities have been revealed, the Lebanese judicial authorities have failed to take the necessary steps to hold them accountable. This constitutes a violation of their duty to conduct prompt and effective investigations into human rights violations occurring in the context of assemblies[10], particularly when injuries are involved[11].

In a Joint report, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on the proper management of assemblies found that:

lack of accountability for violations of the rights to bodily integrity may itself constitute a violation of those rights. Effective investigation includes the following factors: an official investigation initiated by the State; independence from those implicated; capability of determining whether the act was justified in the circumstances; a level of promptness and reasonable expedition; and a level of public scrutiny[12].

This pattern echoes the Human Rights Committee’s 2017 Concluding Observations on Lebanon, which expressed concern about:

reports of the prevalence in society of discrimination, hate speech and homophobic attitudes; harassment, violence and extortion directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals; violations of their freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly[13].


In light of the foregoing, the submitting organisations requested from the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression to urge the Lebanese authorities to conduct a prompt and effective investigation into the assault on the protesters and journalists during the Freedom March. The authors holds the Public Prosecutors at the Court of Cassation and the Court of Appeal of Beirut, as well as the first investigation judge in Beirut, responsible for opening a judicial investigation.

The submitting organizations are: MENA Rights Group (MRG), The Legal Agenda, Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), SEEDS for Legal Initiatives, Helem, Alternative Press Syndicate, Media Association for Peace (MAP), FEMALE.


[1] Freedom of Freedom and Expression Coalition, Joint Statement, Lebanon: Attack on Freedoms Targets LGBTI People, 05 September 2023:  https://foelebanon.net/en/2023/09/05/lebanon-attack-on-freedoms-targets-lgbti-people/ (accessed on 10 October 2023).

[3] Human Rights Watch, Lebanon – Event of 2021, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/lebanon#5c6897 (accessed on 17 October 2023).

[4] Abo Baker Twitter account (@AboBakeral3arab), 28 September 2023, https://twitter.com/AboBakeral3arab/status/1707469818922734079?s=20 (accessed on 11 October 2023).

[5] This provision allows the government to prohibit a public assembly that would disturb public security or public order or public morality. In recent years, the government has banned a number of assemblies on grounds that they posed a threat to or would otherwise disturb public security. The Law provides that public assemblies must be notified at least 48 hours in advance to either the Ministry of Interior (if the assembly will be held in Beirut). Source: Right of assembly, The right of peaceful assembly in Lebanon, https://www.rightofassembly.info/country/lebanon (accessed on 17 October 2023).

[7] Legal Agenda, Video of individuals following and beating of the protestors in Freedom March, 30 September 2023, https://twitter.com/Legal_Agenda/status/1708117243970674784 (accessed on 11 October 2023).

[8] Naharnet, Beirut 'Freedoms March' attacked by mob accusing it of backing homosexuality, 1 October 2023, https://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/300666 (accessed on 11 October 2023).

[9] Amnesty International, Lebanon: Investigate assault on Freedom March protesters, 3 October 2023, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/10/lebanon-investigate-assault-on-freedom-march-protesters/ (accessed 17 October 2023).

[10] Human Rights Council, Joint report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on the proper management of assemblies, UN Doc. A/HRC/31/66, 4 February 2016, para. 90.

[11] Human Rights Council, The promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, UN Doc. A/HRC/RES/22/10, 9 April 2013, para. 9.

[12] Joint report, op. cit., para. 90.

[13] Human Rights Committee, Concluding observations on the third periodic report of Lebanon, adopted 3 April 2018, UN Doc. CCPR/C/LBN/CO/3, para. 13.

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