Lebanese parliament delays vote on parallel probe into port explosion after outcry

Lebanese parliament delays vote on parallel probe into port explosion after outcry
Lebanon's parliament failed to achieve the necessary quorum to vote on opening a parallel investigation into the Beirut port explosion.
3 min read
12 August, 2021
Families of victims of the beirut port explosion demonstrated overnight, demanding MPs lift judicial immunities from officials wanted in the investigation [TNA]

Lebanon’s parliament canceled its session on Thursday and postponed its vote on a motion to open a parallel investigation into the Beirut port explosion after MPs came under intense public pressure to cancel the planned probe.

Families of the victims of the August 2020 blast - which killed over 200 people - held a demonstration overnight in front of the UNESCO palace in Beirut, where parliamentarians were to meet, protesting what they see as an attempt by MPs to evade responsibility for the man-made disaster. About 200 protesters joined them in their protest by morning.

Only 39 MPs showed up to the parliamentary session, depriving it of its necessary quorum to proceed.

Several parliamentary blocs had publicly stated the night before that they would not attend the session due to public pressure, as critical posts circulated on social media calling it the "session of shame".

Though the protesters were peaceful, men in plainclothes descended on them late on Wednesday night, attacking them with sticks and accusing them of insulting the speaker of the parliament, Nabih Berri. Among the injured was a photographer for The New Arab's sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

Amnesty International issued a statement on Thursday, condemning the attack, as well as the inaction of Lebanese Internal Security Forces which did not intervene to stop the attackers.

“The sight of victims’ relatives bloodied and lying on the floor, while journalists were shuttled to hospitals for their injuries after a peaceful sit-in, could not send a clearer message about the extent to which authorities are determined to shamelessly and viciously continue obstructing the course of justice,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

Still, demonstrators persisted and arrived in larger numbers by the morning, blocking off the roads leading to the UNESCO palace.

"I came to the protest today because my son was killed in the blast," Samia Mekaa, the mother of a police officer who died in the August 2020 explosion, told The New Arab.

Currently, the investigation into the Beirut port explosion - which killed over 200 people - is led by Judge Tarek Bitar, who is the second official to head the investigation after parliament removed his predecessor for refusing to abide by certain "red lines" in his investigation.

Bitar has asked to interview high-ranking public officials as part of his investigation, including caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and security chief Abbas Ibrahim. So far his request has been denied.

Those requested enjoy judicial immunity unless officials lift the said immunity, which they have thus far refused to do.  

"Shame on the representatives for what they are doing. They don't want to lift the [judicial] immunities, but regardless of what they want, we will lift them. The blood of the martyrs that flowed from the explosion isn't cheap," Mekaa said.

Another protester pointed to a large scar on his neck, which he sustained during the explosion - which "almost killed him" - as his reason for attending the protest.

Parliament was to vote on a resolution that would have referred the investigation into the Beirut port explosion to an obscure political body known as the Supreme Council.

The Supreme Council is officially tasked with conducting impeachment trials for high-ranking officials, but the body has never met since its inception in the 1990s.

The move to open up a parallel investigation was largely seen as an attempt by MPs to evade responsibility, and after the motion was revealed by Lebanese NGO, Legal Agenda, at least six parliamentarians withdrew their signatures.

Legal Agenda called the motion to open up a separate investigation an attempt to "smuggle aspects out of Bitar’s grasp into a fictitious court".


This article was updated after publication to reflect Amnesty International's statement on the attack on protesters.