Beirut: An 18-year-old Lebanese student, who participated in the weekend’s protests, lost vision in one eye after riot police shot a rubber bullet straight in his face at Martyrs’ Square.
“I have just been informed by the operating surgeon that the damage in my right eye is permanent,” the technology student, Abdul Rahman Jaber, told Gulf News on Tuesday.
Violent clashes erupted between thousands of protesters and riot police of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces in the capital’s Martyrs Square and Nijme Square (Parliament area).
As commercial districts like Hamra, Mar Elias and Beirut Downtown saw unforeseen violence at rallies, and confrontations between police and demonstrators, hundreds of protestors were hospitalised.
Since the start of the protests, the police had been using teargas and batons to disperse crowds.
But for the first time, the riot police shot rubber bullets straight at protesters who targeted the Central Bank, destroyed ATMs, blocked roads and public departments and damaged stores owned by politicians.
Nearly six people sustained critical eye injuries due to rubber bullets being shot directly at their faces.
“My surgeon had given me 10 per cent hope of seeing again after a six-hour surgery. When he examined, he said my retina has been permanently damaged and cannot see. I cannot establish whether the shooting was intentional. I got injured during while shouting ‘revolution, revolution’,” Jaber said.
His devastated mother said she’ll do her best to help her son regain his eyesight.
“I’ve already communicated with the lawyers’ syndicate to sue the ISF and seek justice and compensation for my son’s permanent damages,” she told Gulf News.
Nadine, a twitter user, posted a video of two protesters, Rabih and Ayman, who became blinded in one eye each as a result of rubber bullets.
“We are toughies and we’re returning. Wait for us, we’ll rejoin the protestors once we heal … the revolution continues until they [regime] are overthrown,” they said while addressing protestors.
Dr Eid Azar of Saint Joseph Hospital said they treated one major abdominal injury that was caused by a rubber bullet. “It is very difficult to specify whether the shooting was intentional or it was a case of lack of training,” he told the newspaper.
Speaking on the legalities and standards pertaining to the use of rubber bullets, Dr Omar Nashabe, a criminal justice and human rights analyst, said firearms and rubber bullets are only used in cases of imminent danger.
“Rubber bullets are used after several warnings. As per international standards, they shouldn’t be used at close proximity but rather at a certain distance and shot at specific areas of the body where it doesn’t create permanent damage or fatality. These standards aren’t mentioned specifically in Lebanese laws,” he said.
The ISF recently drafted a code of ethics with the office of High Commission for Human Rights in Lebanon, Interior Minister and the ISF’s Director, according to Dr Nashabe. “The code of ethics says there should be utmost respect for human life and that coercive measures should be the last resort. There is no detailed explanation on the use of rubber bullets yet, but there is a general guidance on how to deal with situations where there is a need to use violence. Violence should only be used proportionately. There should be respect for proportionality and no use of excessive violence and there shouldn’t be use of firearms, except when in imminent danger.”
Due to the large number of protesters injured in their eyes, Dr Nashabe believes that they were shot at close range in the upper part of the body. This shows that there is concern that the actual shooters had the intent to hurt them, he insinuated.
A professor of criminology at Al Azm University, Dr Nashabe, said injured victims have the right to press charges against ISF that should open an internal investigation in what happened.
A second victim Mehdi, who requested anonymity, said from hospital bed: “They ruined my future! I cannot use my left eye anymore.”
Human Rights Watch condemned what it called ‘the brutal use of force unleashed by Lebanon’s riot police against largely peaceful demonstrators.
Lebanese social media activists and journalists launched a solidarity campaign with injured protesters, who lost their eyes to rubber bullets fired by the police.