Written by: MILKA FIJALKOWSKA
Journalist, Reporter TVN24
Date: October, 2, 2023
Photo Credits: MILKA FIJALKOWSKA
Saturday, 5:40 pm we were sitting in a police van, one of the girls counted that
there were seventeen of us. It was hot, there was not enough air, one of the girls was
struggling to catch her breath. I looked at Hayat, she was terrified. She was on the
phone all the time. I could see the fear in her eyes, but women like Hayat are not afraid,
women like that face their attackers, their abusers, look them straight in the eye, say
what they think, have strong arguments, defend the cause, have an opinion, fight. This
time, however, the situation was out of control, it was very dangerous, because here
nobody wanted to talk, to listen to their statement. Those who came here, want war,
they want to scare women, they want to shut their mouths, they want to humiliate them.
Our van was surrounded by an enraged crowd of men who shouted that they would kill
her, threatened to rape her, to attack her family. We were trapped, unable to leave.
The police did nothing for a long time. Both in the square and when we were in that van,
surrounded by a screaming mob. “ We are going to crush your heads” – this sentence I
heard hundreds of times that day. I had the feeling that the police was beside us,
wanting women to feel this fear, being attack. I didn’t feel protected by the police,
Hayat probably also knew that the police wouldn’t protect her.
That day the plan was different, the organisation that Hayat leads wanted to
organise a freedom march. They didn’t get permission. At 4 pm Hayat wanted to make a
statement in Riad Solh square, we went there together. I interviewed her early on at her
organisation’s office. For an article for TVN24 Premium – a website of the largest private
TV station in my country, part of Warner Bros. Discovery to talk about the situation of
women in Lebanon, what her work is like, what challenges she has been facing recently.
I knew before what she was doing, I knew how brave, courageous, unstoppable she
was. What I didn’t expect that on that day I would see with my own eyes what she has
to face and what the situation in Lebanon is like when you are fighting for the basic
thing, no one should fight for freedom.
After the interview, she offered that I could accompany her to the square where
she would make a statement to the press. This is how we found ourselves together at the
Riad Solh, surrounded on all sides by a crowd of several hundred radical men wishing her
dead. After the statement was issued, when the aggression of the crowd began to
increase Hayat came out to face this crowd. She stood face to face with the crazed
and enraged men. One of the men ran up and hit her on the head with his hand, a
moment later someone threw a water bottle in her direction, hitting her on the head.
The men also started attacking journalists, several people were injured, including
“From inside I could see enraged faces with total madness
in their eyes, looking for Hayat inside. They were banging their
fists on our car, spitting on it, shouting death to whores, death
to Hayat and words none of us want to remember.”
Hayat returned to the middle of the square, we were there for about another
hour, not knowing how to get out of the square. At one point the policeman told us to
try to leave the square through one of the streets leading to the square. Hayat, her
friend from the organisation and I, went down this street, when we were at the exit we
suddenly saw a crowd of men on motorbikes starting to drive towards us. There was only
one policeman guarding the entrance to the street. He started shouting in our direction
to run away, he was unable to stop this crowd. We started running back into the stone
square. At one point something in Hayat broke, she started crying. When we reached
the square she could not calm down, the media surrounded her, everyone wanted to
see her suffer. Her friends were with her and they protected her. They asked media to
stop covering the moment. Again we spent an hour, maybe more in the square. Her
friends, friends who were there tried to get her out of there, asked the police for help.
The police said there was nothing they could do. More and more angry men drove up to
the square from the side of the tunnel, they were very close to us. Bottles started flying
towards us, this time glass bottles.
After a long while two police vans drove into the square, someone said that on
cue we should all get into these cars. This is how we found ourselves in them, but
unfortunately we spent more than an hour in them and a crowd of radicals made their
way into the square. Did the police do this on purpose? They let them in so that we
could feel the proximity of fear again. The men started attacking the vans we were in,
the terrified girls were crying. The police were next to us, the crowd was pushing against
the cars. From inside I could see enraged faces with total madness in their eyes, looking
for Hayat inside. They were banging their fists on our car, spitting on it, shouting death to
whores, death to Hayat and words none of us want to remember. After more than an
hour in that car, we saw armoured cars entering the square, army or police with long
guns in their hands. After a few minutes or so, our vans started to move slowly, but the
crowd moved after us. For a long, long time after we left the plan in an escort men on
motorbikes followed our vans. We rode very fast, we went outside the city, we lost them,
we were safe, but is Hayat safe? because this is not the end. This is just the beginning.
Beginning of the war against women, NGOs and freedom.
Why? Because where there are real problems, political impasse, economic crisis,
you need to find an enemy to distract people. This distraction has a new face now.
Hayat Mirshad’s face.