The judge investigating last year’s Beirut port bombing was suspended Monday, a court official said, after which rights groups and the victims’ families condemned another clear case of political obstruction.
In such a second suspension, Tariq Batar will suspend the investigation into the blast until the court replaces him in response to a complaint filed last week by former Interior Minister Nohad Machnok.
Machnuk is one of the top officials in the fleet who is suspected of negligence. A port blast on August 4 last year killed more than 200 people..
If removed, there will be other investigators fired after the Batar bombings, amid widespread allegations of obstruction by Lebanese political leaders, who have largely postponed the investigation.
Batar’s predecessor, Fadi Sawan, was removed in February, when he was summoned by former ministers for questioning and submitted a similar request for change.
Violation of the Constitution
The suspension caused a stir among rights groups and relatives of the blast victims, who accused the political elite of undermining the investigation. LebanonThe worst destruction of peace
Aya Majzoob of Human Rights Watch (HRW) told AFP, “These brutal barriers to justice must be heard to empower the international community to pursue an international fact-finding mission.”
Ibrahim Howitt, whose brother was killed in the blast, accused the political class of “deliberately wasting time” to thwart accountability.
“If Battar is removed, we will burn the country and we will turn to violence,” he warned.
Prime Minister Najib Makati On Monday, he expressed hope that the appellate court would reject the suspension, as Lebanon “cannot arrange for the removal of another judge.”
But he also accused Batar of “violating the constitution” by going after the authorities.
“The constitution sets the rules for prosecuting presidents and ministers,” Makati told a local TV station.
“There are people who have been charged before they are questioned,” he added.
More than a year after the blast, the investigation has yet to identify a single culprit.
The blast was caused by hundreds of tons of unsafe stored ammonium nitrate, but it is not yet clear what caused the fire.
Top parliamentary officials, the government and top security agencies were all aware of the presence of fertilizer and its potential dangers, but failed to act.
HRW has accused Lebanese authorities of criminal negligence in handling the shipment of ammonium nitrate.
Betar called on parliament in July to lift immunity from Machnuk, former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former public works minister Ghazi Zaitar, so they could be questioned.
He also demanded an investigation from national security chiefs and former army commander Jane Kahwagi.
But parliament has rejected his request and top leaders, including the powerful Shiite movement. HezbollahBatar has been accused of political bias.
According to local media, Hezbollah has allegedly threatened Batar.
Amnesty International said Monday’s suspension was an example of “brutal disregard” for victims’ rights by the political leadership and that the UN Security Council had called for a “transparent investigation”.
Relatives of the blast victims have been pushing for accountability for months.
A scheduled protest was announced at the Justice Palace on Wednesday before the news of the suspension.
“It could grow into something bigger now,” Hottet said.
Paul Nagier, who lost his three-year-old daughter Alexandra in the blast, said it was “disgusting” that the investigation was once again suspended.
“We are increasing our mobility to a certain level,” he said. “So far we have been more or less peaceful. I think that will change.”