"Military court on Le Gray protests: demonstrating and rioting fall outside of our jurisdiction."
Fourteen civilian protesters have been facing military court charges in Lebanon since October 2015. The charges are related to their participation in Beirut's 2015 anti-government protests.
But on Monday and at their "explicit request" a military court in Lebanon declared that it was "not competent" to try them.
Ghida Frangieh, a lawyer from the Legal Agenda defending several protesters spoke to Stepfeed and explained that the "fourteen protesters will now be referred to the regular criminal court to be tried on charges of rioting and damage to private property."
Frangieh stressed that five of the protesters will "continue to be tried at the military court on charges of resisting police officers, as this accusation falls under the jurisdiction of the military court according to current laws."
The move was labelled "a step in the positive direction" by Bassam Khawaja, researcher for Human Rights Watch in Lebanon. But he also said that he still has concerns over the five protesters who continue to face military court charges, The Daily Star quoted him as saying.
What message does this decision send?
"This decision sends a clear message that protesting is not an issue to be handled by the military court... The right to protest is a civil right that can only be limited by the regular courts. Regular courts are the natural place for civilians to be tried and where they can benefit from more guarantees for a fair and public trials," Frangieh said.
How is a military court system different than regular court systems?
"The military court system is a separate judicial system that falls under the authority of the Ministry of Defense," Frangieh explained. "It can try civilians accused of crimes such as terrorism, treason, crimes that harm the interest of the military or security forces and conflicts between civilians and military or security personnel."
According to Human Rights Watch, military trials violate international law. In a 37 page report titled, "'It’s Not the Right Place for Us’: The Trial of Civilians by Military Courts in Lebanon," the organization expressed concern over the recent proceedings.
The organization also urged officials in the country "to reform the military court system by removing civilians and children from the military courts’ jurisdiction."
According to the Arab Weekly the Ministry of Defense sent a response letter to the international rights organization explaining that "the military judiciary in all of its statutes respects all national and international rules of law, especially what concerns respect for human rights."
The 2015 protests that led to the charges against activists erupted after a waste disposal crisis caused garbage to pile up on the streets of Beirut and other areas in the country.
Angered by the crisis and fed up with corruption, activists took to the streets.
The demonstrations were peaceful at first but when riot police used violence against protesters to separate them, clashes ensued.
Even though protests died down by the end of the summer, no longstanding waste disposal solution has been implemented in the country.