Today, the families of a number of the victims of the Beirut port explosion began a sit-in in front of the Palace of Justice in support of the investigation path led by the judicial investigator, Tariq Bitar, after his resumption of the investigation sparked an unprecedented battle within the judiciary in Lebanon.
Thus, the main committee representing the families of the victims of the explosion and those affected by it called on the Lebanese to participate in the sit-in “in support of the investigation path,” which Bitar resumed, “jumping over the arbitrary political obstruction of the investigation.”
It denounced what it described as a “political, security, and judicial coup against the law and justice,” blaming “the security forces for the security and safety of Judge Bitar, as well as for the safety of investigation documents.”
The authorities have imposed strict security measures in the Palace of Justice, which has become more like a military barracks, since the early hours of the morning today.
The explosion on August 4, 2020 left more than 215 dead and 6,500 injured. From the beginning, the Lebanese authorities attributed the explosion to the storage of large quantities of ammonium nitrate inside the port without preventive measures, and the outbreak of a fire, the causes of which are unknown. It turned out later that officials at several levels were aware of the dangers of storing the substance and did not move a finger.
Since receiving the investigation into the file two years ago, Bitar (48 years), a judge known for his integrity and independence, has faced obstacles and political interference that prevented him from completing his mission, with several political forces, most notably Hezbollah, objecting to his work and accusing him of “politicizing” the file, leading to a demand for his resignation.
Despite dozens of lawsuits calling for his dismissal and suspending his work 13 months ago, Bitar on Monday resumed his investigations by claiming eight people, including Attorney General Ghassan Oweidat and two high-ranking security officials. And he set dates for their interrogation with others in the context of public lawsuits “for crimes of murder, abuse, arson, and vandalism, all of which depend on probable intent.”
The judicial confrontation escalated with Oweidat’s refusal of Bitar’s decisions and his accusation of “rebellion against the judiciary and usurpation of power” and preventing him from traveling, and the release of the 17 detainees in the investigation, in a move that reflects the size of the division within the judicial body and threatens to undermine the investigation.
For his part, Bitar confirmed on Wednesday that he “does not have the right” for Oweidat to take the decisions he announced, as he is a defendant in the case. He added, “I will continue with my duties and assume my responsibilities in the port file until the end.”
The Supreme Judicial Council will hold a meeting this afternoon to discuss the latest judicial developments.
The discriminatory decisions of the Public Prosecution angered the families of the victims and jurists, who saw the move as a judicial “coup” that perpetuates the culture of “impunity” that has always characterized the public scene in a country whose history is full of assassinations, explosions, and corruption files, in which those involved have rarely been held accountable.