Events in Beirut expose public distrust of Lebanese authorities

Events in Beirut expose public distrust of Lebanese authorities
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Updated 27 November 2020

Events in Beirut expose public distrust of Lebanese authorities

Events in Beirut expose public distrust of Lebanese authorities
  • The families of the port explosion’s victims demanded that those responsible for the explosion be “hanged in nooses.”

BEIRUT: Two events in 24 hours in Beirut this week highlighted the troubled state of Lebanon. On Wednesday evening, members of the Internal Security Forces assaulted a lawyer who had violated lockdown rules, while on Thursday afternoon families of the victims of August’s Beirut Port explosion took to the streets again to protest the judiciary’s handling of the investigation into the disaster that left 202 people dead and around 6,500 wounded.

The lawyer Rachid Derbas, an activist and former minister, told Arab News: “These are signs of the state’s rupture. We expected the judiciary and security to be the last systems to collapse in Lebanon, but they clearly weren’t.”

The families of the port explosion’s victims demanded that those responsible for the explosion be “hanged in nooses.” They proceeded to the house of Judge Fadi Sawan, who is in charge of the investigation but has yet to issue any reports explaining how the incident occurred, although he has asked parliament to investigate some ministers.

The protestors raised banners saying, “We will not remain silent anymore,” and stating that they will not accept “a ruling of negligence or misadventure.” They carried pictures of various prime ministers and other ministers who have held office since 2013, when ammonium nitrate is believed to first have been stored at the port.

They also demanded “bold decisions and the prosecution of all administrative, political and security officials, regardless of their status,” adding that they believe the crime was not a result of negligence, but was “committed intentionally.”

In a statement, the victims’ families said: “A judge becomes an accomplice to a crime when he covers (for) the main perpetrators and manipulates the causes of the crime by ridiculing it and ruling it as negligence. We will not settle for the conviction of junior officials. Senior officials must be punished as well, regardless of their position in the state.”

Derbas criticized Sawan for “resorting to parliament to request the prosecution of current and former ministers for failing to deal with the storage of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate in the port.”

While Derbas expressed his fear of politicizing the issue, he said he believes that the investigation requires “a large workshop of experts and specialized cadres, for one person cannot do this job on their own.”

Meanwhile, the arrest of lawyer Afram Al-Halabi on Wednesday — for violating the odd and even license plate ruling which allows people to drive on alternate days, depending on their license plate number — sparked anger from some, including the Beirut Bar Association, which condemned the violence of the security forces who made the arrest. Al-Halabi was reportedly thrown to the ground and knelt on before being handcuffed and taken to a police station.

Secretary-General of the Beirut Bar Association Saadeddine Al-Khatib, told Arab News: “We filed a criminal complaint in the name of the bar and the lawyer Al-Halabi, because the violence inflicted on him could have led to his death. He did not utter a word during his exposure to unjustified violence. Lawyers have the right to work during lockdown, for military courts are still operating, which requires the presence of lawyers to file complaints or secure releases. This violence is unacceptable, whether inflicted on lawyers or any ordinary citizen. As unionists, we took a stand. We will not communicate with the Interior Ministry. We have adopted legal procedures instead.”

“Whoever is leading the ship in this country is not concerned with human lives or saving people. He is only interested in himself and is subject to foreign policies,” Derbas told Arab News. “When choosing between bad and worse, he chooses the worst.

“This country is not a place to protect foreign interests. It is not a barracks or a platform. Hezbollah cannot keep the country hostage to Iran's strategy,” he continued. “If a lawyer becomes subject to the mood of the military and the judge, then this system that is leading our country’s ship is not worthy of even riding a bike.”

Fears of Iraq execution spree after Daesh attack

Fears of Iraq execution spree after Daesh attack
Updated 25 January 2021

Fears of Iraq execution spree after Daesh attack

Fears of Iraq execution spree after Daesh attack
  • More than 340 execution orders “for terrorism or criminal acts” were ready to be carried out
  • The orders came after twin suicide attacks claimed by Daesh killed 32 in Baghdad

BAGHDAD: Rights defenders fear Iraq may give the green light to a spree of executions of convicted militants in a show of strength, days after a deadly suicide attack in Baghdad.
On Sunday, an official from Iraq’s presidency told AFP more than 340 execution orders “for terrorism or criminal acts” were ready to be carried out.
“We are continuing to sign off on more,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The orders were disclosed to AFP after twin suicide attacks claimed by the Daesh group on Thursday killed at least 32 people in a crowded open-air Baghdad market.
The blasts were a jolting reminder of the persistent threat posed by the jihadists, despite the government declaring victory over them in late 2017.
The official, along with judicial sources contacted by AFP, could not provide additional details on when the executions may take place or if they included foreigners convicted of belonging to IS.
A 2005 law carries the death penalty for anyone convicted of “terrorism,” which can include membership of an extremist group even if they are not convicted of any specific acts.
Rights groups have warned that executions were being used for political reasons.
“Leaders resort to announcements of mass executions simply to signal to the public that they’re taking... (these issues) seriously,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The death penalty is used as a political tool more than anything else,” she told AFP on Sunday.
In mid-2018, outgoing Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced 13 executions under the Counter-Terror Law, and for the first time authorities published pictures of the hangings.
That came after Daesh killed eight civilians.

Since the official declaration of victory over Daesh, Iraq’s courts have sentenced hundreds to death for crimes perpetrated during the jihadists’ 2014 seizure of around a third of the country and their brutal three-year hold over cities including Mosul.
But only a small proportion of the sentences have been carried out, as they must be approved by the president.
Barham Saleh, who has held the post since 2018, is known to be personally against capital punishment, and has resisted signing execution orders in the past.
Some Iraqis took to social media to demand tougher action from Saleh after Thursday’s attack, accusing him of “not carrying out the sentences” and risking a prison break.
Despite Saleh’s moderating influence, Iraq in 2019 carried out the fourth highest number of executions among nations worldwide, after China and Iran, according to Amnesty International.
Iraq carried out 100 executions that year — one out of every seven worldwide.
Judicial sources told AFP at least 30 executions took place in 2020.
They include 21 men convicted of “terrorism” and executed at the notorious Nasiriyah prison in November.
The move sparked condemnations from the United Nations, which described the news as “deeply troubling” and called on Iraq to halt any further planned executions.

Rights groups accuse Iraq’s justice system of corruption, carrying out rushed trials on circumstantial evidence and failing to allow the accused a proper defense.
They also condemn cramped conditions in detention centers, saying those arrested for petty crimes are often held with hardened jihadists, facilitating radicalization.
Iraq’s government has declined to provide figures on detention centers or prisoners, including how many are facing terrorism-related charges, although some studies estimate 20,000 are being held for purported Daesh links.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said late last year that given such gaps in Iraq’s legal system, implementing capital punishment “may amount to an arbitrary deprivation of life by the State.”
Ali Bayati, a leading member of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, told AFP the country had “limited options.”
“Capital punishment is part of the Iraqi legal system — and we do not have real rehabilitation centers,” he said.
“We lack clear guarantees and real transparency in the interrogation and ruling sessions, and in allowing human rights organizations to play their role.”