Households of Beirut blast victims criticize the infighting over the investigation

This week, the re-launch of the investigation into the August 2020 explosion in Beirut prompted an unprecedented deadlock because the judicial investigator and chief prosecutor introduced costs in opposition to one another.

Critics known as it a “farce,” however for the households of the victims nonetheless looking for justice, the parody is heartbreaking and miserable.

The investigation into the August 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion, which killed 220 individuals, has erupted right into a authorized tug-of-war this week between Lebanon’s public prosecutor, Ghassan Oweidat, and Choose Tarek Bitar, an investigative decide tasked with investigating one of many largest trials. Non-nuclear explosions in historical past.

The newest improvement within the long-running pursuit of accountability started on Monday, January 23, when Choose Bitar reopened the investigation, which had been suspended for greater than a 12 months attributable to authorized motion introduced in opposition to him by members of Lebanon’s political institution.

Choose Bitar’s determination to reopen the investigation was as surprising because it was fragmented from the following day, as he issued summons to quite a lot of outstanding figures within the Lebanese political and safety institution.

Among the many males summoned for questioning on February 6 had been Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zuaiter, two former ministers from the Amal Motion, a Shiite political occasion led by longtime Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, a robust determine dubbed the Lebanese political participant. The outcast.”

Different heavyweights within the indictment embrace former Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, Tony Saliba, the pinnacle of state safety and an ally of former President Michel Aoun, in addition to Abbas Ibrahim, the pinnacle of public safety who is taken into account near the Shiites. The axis of energy consists of Hezbollah and the Amal Motion.

The general public prosecutor brings costs in opposition to the decide, but it surely was Choose Bitar’s determination to take authorized motion in opposition to Oweidat, the general public prosecutor, that sparked a storm that highlighted the degrees of impunity, corruption and state collapse that plunged Lebanon right into a sequence of devastating crises.

Oweidat had earlier recused himself from any involvement within the explosion investigation as Choose Bitar issued an arrest warrant for his brother-in-law Zuaiter, an Amal Motion politician who was beforehand Lebanon’s Minister of Public Works.

Based on what Agence France-Presse quoted a judicial official, in 2019, Oweidat oversaw an investigation by the safety providers into cracks within the Beirut port warehouse the place lots of of tons of ammonium nitrate had been saved with out safety measures because it was unloaded in 2013. The ammonium nitrate led to an explosion Port in August 2020.

The tragedy – which befell 1000’s along with the 220 useless and devastated downtown Beirut – is due largely to negligence, corruption and a scarcity of accountability amongst Lebanon’s ruling class.

On Wednesday, Legal professional Normal Oweidat responded to the indictment issued in opposition to him by ordering the discharge of 17 individuals held with out trial because the port explosion and indicting Choose Bitar for “rise up in opposition to justice” and “usurping energy.”

The Public Prosecutor of the Courtroom of Cassation mentioned in a press release to Agence France-Presse that the decide was additionally prevented from leaving Lebanese territory and summoned for questioning on Thursday morning.

In response to the summons, Choose Bitar instructed reporters on Wednesday that he didn’t intend to seem for questioning. “I’m nonetheless accountable for the investigation and I can’t hand over this case,” he instructed reporters. “The general public prosecutor has no energy to prosecute me.”

By Thursday, the disaster had escalated as demonstrators gathered in entrance of the Ministry of Justice in Beirut to protest Oweidat’s “coup” in opposition to Choose Bitar.

As protesters tried to power their method into the Ministry of Justice, police used batons and tear gasoline, injuring at the least eight individuals, based on native media stories.

Lebanese Particular Forces encompass the workplace of Public Prosecutor Ghassan Wediat within the Beirut courthouse whereas protesters exterior attempt to storm the workplace of the Public Prosecutor in Beirut.

Oweidat is accused of organizing a coup in opposition to the Beirut explosion decide, Tariq Bitar, which angered the households of the victims.

– Timour Azhari (@timourazhari) January 26, 2023 Opposition MPs who arrived on the ministry for a gathering with Justice Minister Henri Khoury mentioned Khoury’s bodyguards had been capable of seize their cellphones.

In the meantime, one of many 17 detainees launched beneath Oweidat’s orders arrived in the USA on Thursday, based on the Lebanese every day Naharnet.

The report added that Muhammad Ziyad Al-Awf, director of the Safety and Security Division, who holds each Lebanese and American nationalities, left the nation regardless of the journey ban imposed on all launched detainees.

The primary and second judges had been dismissed beneath stress The newest developments, which Amnesty Worldwide and Human Rights Watch described as a “judicial farce”, have enraged the households of the victims, who had been initially glad to re-launch the investigation into the Beirut port explosion.

“Solely 13 months in the past, we had been preventing for justice to renew its course, so it was an enormous shock to see Choose Bitar return to work. His braveness gave us hope within the Lebanese justice system, even when we had little religion on this prison,” mentioned Paul Najer, Alexandra’s father. , one of many youngest victims of the Beirut explosion, mentioned in an interview with France 24, “The regime has, from the very starting, achieved all the pieces in its energy to neutralize the decide.”

Greater than two years after the port explosion, the investigation has been slowed down by political interference within the judicial course of.

Shortly after the explosion, the Minister of Justice appointed Choose Fadi Sawan to guide the investigation. However Swan halted the investigation in February 2021 after Oweidat Zaiter’s son-in-law and colleague Amal Khalil complained that the decide had overstepped his powers.

When Choose Bitar was appointed as an alternative, he additionally bumped into hassle when he tried to cross-examine outstanding political figures. The suspects have flooded the Lebanese courts with authorized circumstances looking for to take away the brand new lead investigator attributable to alleged bias.

In September 2021, a senior Hezbollah official threatened to “expose” Choose Bitar on the grounds that he was politicized, whereas rumors circulated that the pro-Iranian Shiite occasion was concerned in stockpiling the ammonium nitrate that prompted the port explosion.

On October 14, armed clashes left six individuals useless in Beirut on the sidelines of an indication organized by Hezbollah and its ally Amal in entrance of the Ministry of Justice to demand that Choose Bitar be faraway from the investigation.

“The rule of legislation is useless in Lebanon.” Nevertheless, Choose Bitar has the boldness of many Lebanese, together with the households of the victims, who think about him a person of integrity and braveness.

I anticipated a counterattack from the prosecutor [Oweidat]However not on this scale, and positively not an finish to the rule of legislation, or what’s left of it, Najeer defined. “As a result of that is it, the rule of legislation is useless in Lebanon. Confronted with the collapse of one of many final establishments nonetheless functioning, it’s not Choose Bitar and even the August 4 explosions which are at stake, however everybody and all ongoing investigations.”

Najir continued, “Oweidat’s assault on the decide is definitely concentrating on those that nonetheless consider in justice on this nation, and exhibits that Lebanon is unquestionably turning right into a banana republic.”

Regardless of all of the hardships, Nagyer desires Choose Bitar to remain in his job and never throw within the towel when he’s “confronted with a public prosecutor who’s performing as a pawn of the system, though he has recused himself from the case.”

Choose Bitar’s dealing with, so far, of a extremely advanced and politicized investigation has earned Najir’s respect. Nagir defined: “I belief him as a result of he has labored onerous since his appointment. He has not made any errors thus far, and he doesn’t hesitate to cope with the massive fish. One feels that he has the help of worldwide judges who’re following the case. I discover, for instance, that he has taken motion again within the days The previous few after visiting the French judges.

On January 18, Choose Bitar met with a French judicial delegation that got here to Lebanon to analyze the killing of two French residents throughout the tragedy.

“Going in direction of direct confrontation” However the households of the victims fear about what’s going to occur subsequent. Does the decide expel Bitar? How does he proceed his work if he can’t implement his choices?

“Frankly, we do not have many playing cards left to play any further besides to place most stress on the general public prosecutor to appreciate the scope and penalties of his actions that violate our case and the very essence of justice in Lebanon,” Najer admitted. “It truly is the restrict to see the decide accountable for the investigation being tried by these whom he determined to prosecute within the investigation!”

Like lots of the victims’ households, Najir pinned his hopes for justice on complaints filed exterior Lebanon, the place he considers the justice system to be too depending on a political class that has refused to permit a world investigation into the tragedy.

On July 13, kinfolk of the victims filed a $250 million lawsuit in a Texas courtroom supported by Accountability Now, a Swiss-based activist group, in opposition to TGS ASA, a US-Norwegian geophysical providers group, over contracts it entered into with Lebanese. port authorities.

TGS ASA is allegedly linked to the constitution of the Rhosus vessel, which contained tons of ammonium nitrate that exploded in August 2020.

Submitting a $250 Million Lawsuit in Texas In opposition to TGS ASA Associated to the Beirut Port Explosion: Accountability Now helps a bunch of victims search justice and examine the community of corruption that led to the explosion. Ford O’Brien Landy LLP serves as principal advisor.

— Impeachment Now (@NowActs) July 13, 2022 “We’re heading in direction of a direct confrontation if Choose Bitar is faraway from the case,” Nageer mentioned. “We should transfer in a short time to forestall this from taking place and to alert the worldwide neighborhood that Lebanon has develop into a totally failed state,” Najir mentioned.

This text is a translation of the unique in French.

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