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On the ground

'Their main weapon is fear': Human rights observers accuse Lebanese security forces of abuses

Jean-Georges Prince, a Lebanese protester who was wounded by a rubber bullet, talks to FRANCE 24.
Jean-Georges Prince, a Lebanese protester who was wounded by a rubber bullet, talks to FRANCE 24. © FRANCE 24 screen grab

Lebanon’s new cabinet met for the first time on Wednesday, but the country's tenacious protest movement hasn't seemed to lose momentum. With the country’s security forces now accused of using excessive violence against demonstrators, including the misuse of teargas and rubber bullets, FRANCE 24 took an inside look at their increasingly tough tactics.

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Human rights observers have been accusing security forces of the misuse of rubber bullets and tear gas, as some are being fired at close range or targeting delicate parts of protesters’ bodies, causing many injuries at the Beirut protests.

It took emergency personnel 56 stitches to reconstruct Jean-Georges Prince's lip and chin after he was shot in the face with a rubber bullet by riot police while protesting outside Lebanon's parliament on Saturday.

"I heard the first shot and I saw a guy fall to the floor next to me, then I took my hand off my face and realised it was extremely bloody,” he told FRANCE 24’s Leila Molana-Allen. “A friend of mine was behind me, he looked at my face and he looked horrified. I'm a boxer, so I'm used to taking punches to the face. I never felt anything like that. It literally pushed me back three or four steps. You never expect to get shot in the face, you know," he added.

International guidelines say rubber bullets should only be shot at the lower body, and weapons experts recommend a minimum distance of 40 meters. Prince says the policeman who shot him was only 4-5m away. He wasn't the only one wounded: over 500 protesters were hospitalised with injuries from rubber bullets and tear gas canisters over the weekend. Several lost an eye.

Tear gas canisters are fired from a launcher at an angle meant to allow the contents to disperse into the air. But shoot them directly at a crowd, and the impact can cause serious injury. It's the misuse of these instruments, as well as rubber bullets, that human rights observers say caused so many injuries at the Beirut protests.

"There's an absurdity to it, that's the only word, when you're getting this kind of reaction from the people who are supposed to guarantee your safety", Prince says.

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