Brother of Beirut port blast victim released after protests

Brother of Beirut port blast victim released after protests
Protesters in Beirut took to the streets for a second day against the arrest of William Noun whose brother was killed in the 2020 port explosion.
3 min read
Noun was allegedly arrested for remarks he made on a television programme [Getty/archive]

The brother of a victim of the deadly 2020 Beirut Port blast was released on Saturday after spending a night in custody, as dozens of activists gathered outside the police station he was held at since Friday demanding he be freed.

Judge Zaher Hmadeh agreed to release William Noun from detention. Speaking from Beirut's central fire station shortly after, Noun vowed to continue seeking justice for those killed in the 4 August 2020 tragedy. 

Noun - whose brother, a fireman, was killed in the Beirut port explosion - was arrested Friday allegedly over remarks made during a television programme, a judiciary source told AFP.

The young man is a leading figure among families of the blast's victims who have been calling for the continuation of a probe into the tragic event, on hold for over a year.

Noun's arrest sparked protests Friday night, as his relatives and other victims' families, along with activists and lawmakers, cut off roads in the capital and other parts of the country.

Known for his outspokenness, and in a moment of rage, he had threatened during televised remarks on Thursday to "blow up the palace of justice" to protest moves to replace the judge investigating the blast.

Embattled judge Tarek Bitar has faced an endless series of complaints against him, part of a campaign led by the militant Shia group Hezbollah and its allies seeking to block his probe into the blast.

On Tuesday, relatives of the victims, including Noun, threw stones at the palace of justice in Beirut, where they gathered again on Thursday in a protest over Bitar's possible replacement.

Demonstrations were also held on Saturday in front of the police station where Noun was being held, according to witnesses.

"This is an attempt to intimidate but it won't work," Noun's lawyer, Ralph Tannous, told Lebanese television. "This is a political move, not a judicial one".

MP and lawyer Melhem Khalaf meanwhile told AFP, "I wish they would implement with the same enthusiasm all the warrants issued by the judicial investigator" over the port blast.

He described the replacement of the investigator as a "distraction from all the abnormalities that are happening in the country".

The 2020 disaster, one of history's biggest non-nuclear explosions, killed more than 200 people and decimated vast areas of the capital after a stockpile of haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate caught fire.

Bitar has attempted to question a former premier, four ex-ministers, and a number of security officials over the tragedy, but his probe was repeatedly obstructed before being suspended.