Tear gas or tinsel: Lebanese riot police prank receives mixed response

Police staged a mock arrest to spread festive cheer but many shared videos of police abuse to highlight hypocrisy

A Christmas video put out by the Lebanese Internal Security Forces has received mix responses to a prank in which riot police pretend to arrest a family before opening their prison van to reveal Santa Claus.

While lots of users on social media welcomed the festive stunt, others shared images and footage of riot officers beating protesters during the recent mass demonstrations against the government.

On October 17, mass protests sparked by a proposed raft of taxes began spreading against the government and quickly morphed into a broad demand to end years of nepotism, sectarianism, corruption and incompetence.

Saad Hariri resigned as prime minister on October 29, causing the government to collapse.

The video shows drone footage of Martyrs’ Square in central Beirut, where protesters have camped for weeks, before cutting to riot officers putting on their equipment and picking up their shields.

Officers then question two women who are cleaning the square about what they are doing. “I’m trying to clean our country,” one of the women replies.

The officer then tells the woman that she needs to come with him along with her husband and children and the riot police – some holding assault rifles – and escort them through the square.

But when they reach the riot van, the stony-faced officers break into a smile as they open the back of the vehicle and a man dressed as Santa steps out to greet the family.

The family react with shock and smile as they greet Father Christmas, who rings a bell and hands out gifts.

The voiceover proclaims “We thank you, with such initiatives, we build Lebanon.”

While some users praised the video, saying it was “cute” and thanking the police for protecting the people of Lebanon, others shared footage that rights groups said showed excessive force against peaceful protesters.

“You want to distribute gifts,” one user on Twitter asked “After some time it will be to the demonstrators by handing out tear gas.”

Another user replied to the ISF’s tweet with footage of officers beating protesters and saying simply: “not much”.

While the protests have remained largely peaceful, there have been sporadic clashes with security forces, who have used batons, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

On several occasions, supporters of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have also rushed to central Beirut, the epicentre of the protest movement, attacking demonstrators and security forces.

When asked why police and the army had not done more to stop attacks on demonstrators on October 29, caretaker interior minister Raya Al Hassan condemned the violence but said: “sometimes bad things happen”.

Her comments were widely criticised online, with some saying she was avoiding responsibility as the head of the ministry that oversees the ISF.

The line has since been used widely as a sarcastic response to troubling incidents or developments during the two-month protests.

People even shared the ISF Christmas prank video alongside comments quoting Ms Al Hassan.