Lebanon: Stop attacks and threats against judge investigating the Beirut blast
The Lebanese authorities must end attempts to obstruct, intimidate and threaten Judge Tareq Bitar, including the baseless and self-serving lawsuits aimed at removing him from the investigation into the Beirut blast, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today.
هذا البيان متوفر باللغة العربية أيضاً
On 12 October, the High Defense Council blocked interrogation of State Security Chief Tony Saliba, and a meeting of the Council of Ministers was suspended following criticism and calls by numerous ministers to remove Judge Bitar.
Over the past few months, two Minsters of Interior had blocked the interrogation of General Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim.
“The Lebanese authorities are using every trick in the book to derail Judge Bitar’s investigation,” said Said Benarbia, the ICJ’s MENA Programme Director.
“Through their cynical attacks against Judge Bitar and the integrity of his investigation, the authorities are betraying the victims and shielding alleged perpetrators from accountability”
Since his appointment in February 2021 to lead the investigation into the August 2020 Beirut port blast, Judge Tarek Bitar has been the target of a number of baseless complaints demanding his recusal from the investigation. Three former ministers and current members of Parliament, Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zaiter and Nohad Machnouk, filedrequests to the Beirut Court of Appeals and the Cassation Court to have Bitar removed, after he had summoned them for questioning.
Hezbollah-supportive media and Hezbollah leaders, including Hassan Nasrallah, have engaged in a smear campaign against Judge Bitar for his role in the investigation, and have also been calling for his removal. According to media reports, a Hezbollah official has threatened Judge Bitar.
“The smear campaign and direct and indirect threats against Judge Bitar are appalling affronts to the rule of law and judicial independence in Lebanon,” said Benarbia.
“Instead of condoning these outrageous actions, the Lebanese authorities must protect Judge Bitar’s right to personal security and physical integrity, and ensure that he is able to carry out his investigations without intimidation, hindrance or political interference”
The ICJ had previously called on the Lebanese authorities to end chronic impunity and ensure accountability for the Beirut blast.
The complaints by former ministers, Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zaiter and Nohad Machnouk were dismissed on 4 October 2021, but caused the investigation to be suspended for seven days. Khalil and Zeaiter moved to filecomplaints before the Court of Cassation shortly afterwards, which were eventually rejected. Machnouk lodged a complaint with the same Court requesting Bitar’s recusal, which is still pending. On 12 October 2021, Bitar issued an arrest warrant against Khalil after he failed to attend questioning. On the same day, his investigation was suspended again as a result of yet new lawsuits filed by Khalil and Zeaiter before the Court of Cassation.
Back in September, Bitar issued an arrest warrant against former minister Youssef Fenianos for failing to appear for interrogation. Fenianos shortly after filed a complaint before the Court of Cassation requesting Bitar’s removal for “legitimate suspicion” of partiality. The case it still under review.
Said Benarbia, Director, ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme; t: +41 22 979 3817, e: said.benarbia(a)icj.org
Asser Khattab, Research and Communications Officer, ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme; e: Asser.Khattab(a)icj.orgNewsPress releases