BEIRUT — Shouting, airborne projectiles, a crowd in disarray — these are the scenes shown in dozens of videos flooding social networks Saturday in Lebanon as a "freedoms march," organized to begin at 4 p.m. in Riad Solh Square, downtown Beirut, came under attack by individuals in civilian clothes who had arrived on motorcycles. Several people have reportedly been injured in the incident.
The attack was reported by a number of local media outlets and confirmed to L'Orient-Le Jour by several activists taking part in the march.
At least three people were injured, according to Whard Mougharbel, an activist present at the march and member of several groups, including Helem, an organization that defends the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Lebanon. Helem itself, however, was not involved in the organization of this "freedoms march," which was launched at the call of several collectives, including the Mada network. The march had been planned to head towards the Interior Ministry headquarters in Sanayeh.
'We're going to crush their heads'
Virtually all the video footage of the incident circulated by Lebanese online media outlets, such as Daleel Thawra, Akhbar el-Saha and Legal Agenda, shows images of men standing, some sporting long beards, in front of metal barriers set up by security forces, insulting demonstrators gathered on the other side while also launching projectiles toward them. Other footage showed assailants kicking some protesters.
"This subject touches our children, our religion … We're going to crush the heads of those who promote these people," one man is heard saying, although he does not specify who he is talking about. "Let MTV, those sell-outs, get in line and stop supporting these people!" he is heard adding in a video shared by Akhbar el-Saha on Facebook. At the beginning of September, MTV aired an advertisement advocating for the decriminalization of "unnatural" relations in Lebanon. The link between this advertisement and the individual's statements has not been clearly established.
In another video, a demonstrator, activist Hayat Mirchad, exchanges views with one of the individuals who came to disrupt the march. "The street belongs to everyone," she says. "Eat sh...," shouts the man, before continuing to insult her. Another tries to cross the barrier to hit her.
Several demonstrators injured
Mougharbel, who was present at the scene, spoke to L'Orient-Le Jour by telephone. "I've been injured. I'm in hospital waiting to be examined," he said. "Some people are still trapped down there, and that's what's got me worried," he continued. So far, he said, three people have been injured to his knowledge. "It was clearly an organized attack. I saw some guys arrive on motorcycles, then [they] put their masks on all together before coming towards us," he recounted
The activist pointed out that the demonstration was not openly pro-LGBTQ+ but simply "in defense of freedoms."
Asked about the identity of the assailants, he said, "We don't know who they are yet. We'll try to find out more."
For its part, the NGO Legal Agenda said on X (formerly Twitter) that at least three people had been injured in the incident.
"The assailants attacked the security forces who were trying to evacuate them, forcing them to use tear gas grenades to disperse them," the organization added.
Photographer Hassan Assal, who was present at the scene, sent photos to L'Orient-Le Jour showing bloodied people.
L'Orient-Le Jour reached out to the Internal Security Forces for comment, but at the time of publication, it had received no response.