I was one of the many activists / protesters that held a sit-in inside the environment ministry. Here’s what happened from the moment we met to the moment we were forcibly thrown out.
We met the same day, before the sit-in, and discussed the plan and the probable outcomes. The first thing we said is that this isn’t an occupation, just a sit-in in a public space. We wouldn’t close the offices, the employees would be free to move, and we would of course let the minister freely move.
We separated ourselves in groups and moved to the ministry accordingly in order to not seek attention. We went there and entered very peacefully, but quite quickly because the single policeman was “feeling something”. (Fun fact: he was playing Candy Crush according to another protester).
We were in.
Before continuing, I want to say something important. The building stairs gave access to two corridors, we held a sit-in in the right section and the minister was on the left. No single protester was on the left section so the minister could move freely, and even if we were on the same section, the minister could always move in and out. It wasn’t an occupation so I condemn every media and person that call it an occupation.
In fact we, the protesters, were under occupation.
When we first got in, some head of security personnel tried to remove the phone from one of us and tried to made us get up forcefully, we shouted on him. They tried to close the door and trap us but some protesters didn’t let them and sat on the door. We began chanting, applauding, clapping and shouting.
Shortly after, policemen, not from the police force, tried to remove us by carrying us, but they couldn’t. They didn’t hit us.
Employees were filming us and were smiling at us, they could move freely but soon got out of the building because their schedule was done. The media kept pouring inside the corridor we were in. Some policemen and responsible went in and out. They moved freely, and we shouted “peaceful” every time they passed.
Then began the psychological war.
The responsible / policeman began by shutting the access to the bathroom. The bathroom had a small window giving the view on the small square under the ministry, that’s where we could breath and salute the other protesters. It was the only access to air and oxygen to the corridor.
Then they shut off the air conditioner coming from inside the offices. And we kept hearing news from the media; how the police force entered the building, how the interior ministry renewed his 30 minutes deadlines to get us out of the building.
We kept chanting, just lower in order to save our energy. The media was still inside at the moment. We rejected negotiations with the minister or anyone representing him. We wanted him to resign because he didn’t do anything proper regarding the garbage crisis. It’s as simple as that. The previous day he even left his position from the committee dealing with the crisis. An environment minister leaving his duties responsibilities concerning the worst environmental crisis Lebanon in recent years should just resign.
The psychological war escalated when they began shutting every door and when they turned off the lights JUST ABOVE us. We kept hearing news on the location of the police force, and we applauded every time 30 minutes passed. We knew the police force were just near us and closed the right and left exits of the corridor.
We didn’t know exactly whether the minister was still inside the building.
The media were asked to leave, and the panic started because it’s just inadmissible to ask the media to leave in a “free” country. It was censorship, plain and clear. Some media personnel acted accordingly, other reporters and journalists resisted. We formed a line and didn’t let the remaining pass. Most of them wanted to stay but they were forced by the police to leave. The police broke the line and pushed the quasi-totality of the reporters out of the corridor. The camera-man from BBC Arabic, the cameraman from LBCI, the LBCI reporter Foutoun Raad and the radio reporter of Jarass Scoop were the last journalists. The police cut the lines of LBCI broadcasting vehicle under the building so the reporter Foutoun Raad kept doing her job via her phone. No images were filmed from a television camera after that. Soon after, her and the remaining reporters were literally carried and thrown away. Just Joe Maalouf from LBCI stayed with us and the cameraman (without his camera let’s stress) stayed. We began writing our name on a piece of paper because we knew something bad could happen.
The force were closing in near the right and they were 5 meters away from us when some responsible shouted on them.
“Who told you to enter now! Go back! GO BACK!!” and another responsible told him, obviously lower in rank. “Yes “Sidi” (Sir)!
They weren’t even coordinating with each unit! So we felt those coming from the right wanted to give us a good beating.
Some responsible from the police collecting stupid medals all over his shirt told us “it weren’t the way” and that “there are principles”. We shouted at him that we were ready to be arrested but the minister should just resign. We kept extending our arms, as a sign that we were ready to be handcuffed.
And so begin the kidnapping from the right side of the corridor, where I was. Those who didn’t want to get up were savagely beaten with the heavy sticks and boots. The most beaten one were Lucien Bourjeily. They hit him, stepped on him like some piece of meat. There were at least 4 policemen on him, beating him endlessly. Those who dared to defend him were also severely beaten. I didn’t resist and got up.
I was pushed and insulted, I was also beaten with the heavy stick on my back, but not severely (I have small traces), all of this while shouting: “I’m peaceful and I didn’t hit you, don’t hit me!”. Some answered accordingly, but most of them just kept giving slaps on our heads. A scene that I remember very well was when we were going down the stairs, policemen were above us in the staircase, they waited for us to turn our back in order to keep pushing us and hitting us.
Another scene that I can’t forget is how one policeman pushed me on the stairs and I fell. He didn’t have to do this as I was offering zero resistance. Both of my legs and my left hand still badly hurt.
Some policemen may get an adrenaline rush pushing a man on the stairs, making him fall.
I couldn’t see Lucien at that point, we were separated into multiple small groups to descend those endless stairs. Some policemen were smiling and didn’t wear any armour and helmet. Others thought they were dealing with IS members. From time to time insults came. “C’mon you dogs! Yalla you animals!”
We were thrown like garbage outside the ministry and I landed on other protesters. Lucien was crying and shouting because of his pain and shock and was transported quickly to the hospital.
Media then followed us and wanted testimonies, some of those media / newspapers / tv’s said we were occupying the ministry and that we were some kind of threat to the minister.
The label “occupation” is wrong because to occupy is to remove access and exit to the ministry. We didn’t take the ministry as our possession. We never did that. I repeat, the police and government occupied us, not the contrary.
Few hours later, the remaining protesters were thrown out in the same manner, after the minister ran away. The minister still thinks that resigning is losing.
Lucien and the other wounded are fine.