Victims of Beirut port explosion protest suspension of investigation

Victims of Beirut port explosion protest suspension of investigation
Families of the victims of the Beirut port explosion gathered on Wednesday to protest the attempted removal of Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation into the blast.
2 min read
29 September, 2021
Not all demonstrators agreed on whether or not they should 'politicise' the quest for justice in the Beirut port explosion [TNA]

The families of the victims of the Beirut port explosion held a demonstration outside the Beirut Palace of Justice on Wednesday, protesting the suspension of an investigation into the 4 August 2020 explosion.

Around 300 supporters joined the families as they made speeches in support of Judge Tarek Bitar who is leading the investigation into the blast which killed at least 218 people and wounded around 6,500.

Bitar was forced to suspend his investigation into the explosion on Monday after former Interior Minister and current MP Nohad Machnouk filed a complaint with the Court of Appeals accusing Bitar of political bias in his investigation. Bitar had issued a summons for Machnouk's interrogation in relation to the blast.

By filing to the Court of Appeals, the investigation must be stayed until the court makes a decision regarding Machnouk's complaint. Critics argue believe this measure is a stalling tactic, as sitting MPs are currently without their usual judicial immunity. The immunity will return on 19 October when parliament reconvenes.

"This is not the first time we have stood on the steps of the court carrying pictures of our relatives, asking for the most basic of rights," a member of one of the victim’s families told the crowd.

"We're here to support judge Bitar so that he continues and so that he doesn't have a reason to fear and retreat from what he’s doing," Suheil al-Sooz, a 69-year old engineer from Saida told The New Arab.

Although the rally was held to support Bitar and was led by the victims' families, protesters' complaints boiled over into Lebanon's general collapse.

The crowd interrupted the victims' families on multiple occasions, chanting "terrorist, terrorist, Hezbollah are terrorists".

The spokesperson of the families, Ibrahim Hoteit, pleaded with the crowd not to "politicize their cause".

"Let us reach justice and not get into politics - by politicising our cause you're killing us again," Hoteit said. A member of the crowd shouted back "and now you're killing us!"

In recent weeks, Bitar had summoned several high-ranking officials such as former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who left the country before he could be questioned, and former Minister of Public Works and Transportation Youssef Fenianos.

Soon after, local Lebanese media began to circulate rumours about his connections to foreign powers and Bitar himself was directly threatened by a top Hezbollah official.

Bitar is the second judge to lead the investigation after his predecessor, Fadi Sawwan, was removed after similarly being accused of political bias.