Lebanon – Activist starts hunger strike over military tribunals

(The Daily Star, September 3 2010)

A human rights activist began a hunger strike on Thursday to protest a military tribunal ruling which sentenced him to two months in prison and imposed a LL2,500,000 ($1,666) fine for noncompliance with the court.

Nour Merheb, 24, was sentenced on September 1 for refusing to attend the original date of his hearing on May 28. He had previously warned that in the case of his arrest he would “start an open hunger strike as soon as the authorities imprisoned me [that] I will not stop until I am released again.”

Merheb attended several military tribunal sessions for an altercation with an out-of-uniform Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) soldier, which eventually cleared him and ruled that the soldier bore “full responsibility” for the attack.

Regardless of his innocence Merheb was fined LL2,500,000 by the court, causing him to publicly denounce its legitimacy and refuse to cooperate further.

“The military courts are illegal, unconstitutional and exceptional courts that do not respect the five conditions for a fair trial, being: independence, impartiality, competence, integrity and legitimacy,” said Merheb. “I’m a nonviolent human rights activist, I have no weapon to object injustice but my non-cooperation with that injustice and I call on all those who are being tried in front of the military courts to stop attending its sessions and to declare nonviolent non-cooperation.”

Merheb, supported by various human rights groups, has lashed out at the court for operating in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which prohibits military tribunals to try civilians.

The court is chaired by military personnel and not civil judges. It also has the authority to issue the death penalty in less than six hours and execute defendants within 24 hours. Among other military matters, the tribunals are tasked with investigating espionage and are given extra-judiciary powers under the pretext of preserving national security.

“In a troubled country like Lebanon, it is irrational for the rulers to have such a tool available,” said Merheb.