Hundreds of Lebanese, including the families of the victims of the Beirut port explosion, gathered in front of the court of justice in the capital
BEIRUT – Hundreds of Lebanese, including families of victims of the Beirut port blast, gathered outside the capital’s court on Wednesday to support the judge investigating the blast after being forced to suspend his job.
The suspension was triggered by a court challenge filed by a former Cabinet minister, who is a defendant in the case. A court must now decide on its dismissal or on the continuation of the investigation.
Several lawmakers and former officials indicted in the case by Bitar have filed lawsuits against him, asking him to step down for violation of the law or bias.
More than a year after the explosion that devastated the city and killed more than 200 people, there is no response to what caused the fire of the highly explosive materials stored in the port for years on August 4. 2020.
Rights groups and local media investigation revealed that most top Lebanese leaders and security agencies were aware of the nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate and did not do much. to protect the people of Beirut from this. But over the past year, senior politicians have joined forces in their efforts to block the investigation.
On Wednesday, the French government said it regretted the suspension of the investigation.
“Lebanese justice must work in transparency, free from any political interference,” French Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anne-Claire Legendre told reporters. “It is up to the Lebanese authorities to allow the investigation to continue with all the necessary financial and human resources so that it can shed light on what happened on August 4 and meet the legitimate expectations of the Lebanese people.
The attempt to remove Bitar angered the families of the victims.
In addition, Lebanese media reported that Bitar reported to prosecutors the threats he received from a senior Hezbollah official, through a third party, who said he was losing patience with the way he was investigating.
Tension briefly erupted during Wednesday’s protest outside the courthouse as some chanted against Hezbollah, while other family members said they wanted the issue to remain above the politics of Hezbollah. division of Lebanon.
“Judge Bitar has received threats and after the threat they can remove him from the case. Why? … Why is he threatened and why could he have been dismissed from his post? Asked Vicky Atallah, a relative of whom was killed in the explosion at the port. “If (this happens) with every judge, who can be held to account in this country? How can we obtain our rights as citizens?
Protesters held up banners that read “we will not forget” and “we will not allow the killers to torpedo the investigation.”
“We are your army. We are with you and we support you, ”said one of the relatives of the victims, referring to Bitar.
Many families have already called for an international investigation in the country known for its culture of impunity.
Bitar is the second judge to take over the complicated investigation. A court asked his predecessor to step down earlier this year, following similar legal challenges. Various political leaders are now accusing Bitar of politicizing the investigation by prosecuting some officials and not others and by ignoring the immunity granted to lawmakers and government officials.