Lebanon.. The families of the victims of the port explosion threaten to escalate and the investigation faces a new obstacle
A number of families of the victims of the Beirut port explosion staged a sit-in in front of the Ministry of Justice headquarters, and demanded the acceleration of investigations into the incident that occurred more than a year ago, threatening to escalate their protests.
During the sit-in they organized on Monday, the protesters raised banners expressing their solidarity with the investigative judge, Tariq Al-Bitar, and closed some roads with burning tires, denouncing what they considered political interference obstructing the investigation.
They threatened to take escalatory steps if the impunity for the perpetrators of the port explosion continues, calling for an investigation of those who were accused by Al-Bitar in this explosion that occurred on August 4, 2020, which killed 215 people and caused billions of dollars in material losses.
They also called for an expedited appointment of a replacement for Judge Roukoz Rizk, who retired last week, and was looking into a litigation case against Judge Tariq Al-Bitar, which was filed by former Minister Youssef Fenianos, one of the defendants in this case.
Reuters quoted Kian Talis, who lost his brother in the blast, as saying that they want justice and do not want to wait years to witness it.
Al-Bitar had accused 10 people, including former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and former ministers and deputies, some of whom are members or close to Hezbollah and the Amal movement.
Since this judge received the investigation about a year ago, 16 lawsuits filed before different courts have pursued him.
Hezbollah and some of its allies demanded the dismissal of al-Bitar, whom they accuse of bias against them, and they boycotted cabinet sessions for more than 3 months, but they announced last Saturday that they would end this boycott.
Reuters news agency said that the investigation into the Beirut port explosion faces a new obstacle that may leave it suspended, by preventing the issuance of any indictments by the judge who handles this file.
The agency quoted judicial sources that the lawsuit filed by former Minister Youssef Fenianos – one of the most prominent figures that Bitar wants to be questioned – is pending, after Judge Roukoz Rizk retired last week.
A verdict cannot be issued in the lawsuit, which the source said accuses Al-Bitar of making a “grave mistake” in conducting the investigation, until a replacement for Rizk, who has reached the mandatory retirement age, is appointed.
A judicial source told Reuters that as long as this case is not resolved, the investigative judge cannot issue an indictment (indictment) against those suspected of being responsible for the explosion of the port as a result of the presence of about 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been confiscated from a ship and stored since 2014.
And because politicians usually choose judges in Lebanon, this may lead to leaving the position vacant and keeping the lawsuit filed by Fenianos pending, according to the Executive Director of the Legal Agenda Group, Nizar Saghieh.
A separate lawsuit has already suspended the investigation into the port explosion for the time being.
Heiko Wiemen of the International Crisis Group described the lawsuits blocking the investigation’s progress as a “legal play”, saying that obstructing the investigation would further damage the confidence of the Lebanese in state institutions.