BEIRUT: Tires were burned outside Beirut’s Palais de Justice on Friday to protest the removal of a judge investigating the deadly blast that hit the city’s port last year.
Judge Tareq Bitar steps into the position following the removal of Judge Fadi Sawan from the case, after a complaint from two former ministers charged with negligence over the explosion.
More than 200 people were killed and more than 6,000 were injured in the Aug. 4 explosion.
Families of the victims have been protesting in the Lebanese capital following the Court of Cassation dropping Judge Fadi Sawan from the case.
The families described the court’s decision as “a re-killing of the victims” and demanded to know the reason for his exit, vowing to go to politicians’ homes to find out the truth.
They feared that the probe was being politicized. Sawan had summoned some of the country’s leading figures including Prime Minister Hassan Diab, current and former ministers, and administrative and security officials.
Protesters carried pictures of the victims, their banners bore the words: “Remember, judges, justice is the basis of rule.”
The mother of one of the victims said: “We have returned to the starting point of the investigations, and we will not follow the investigations from our homes, but from the street. Why do the politicians want to suppress the truth?”
The wife of another victim said she believed that Sawan was dropped from the case because he had requested that high-ranking officials be interrogated. “Did the officials fear that their turn will come?” she asked. “You (politicians) have robbed us of everything beautiful, and we are asking for the minimum of our rights, which is justice.”
The Supreme Judicial Council decided to have open meetings after caretaker Minister of Justice Marie-Claude Najm proposed Judge Tarek Bitar to take over from Sawan.
The head of the Supreme Judicial Council, Judge Suhail Abboud, met with a delegation of the victims’ families in an attempt to calm their anger.
After the meeting, Ibrahim Hoteit said on behalf of the families: “We have demanded the speedy appointment of a new judge who has courage and integrity. We also demanded that the case is not politicized. He promised us good, and we trust him.”
He insisted that the judiciary would “operate under pressure because we will stay in the street.”
Activists joined the protesting families, saying they considered the decision to dismiss Sawan as an “absolutely political one.”
Former minister and Achrafieh MP Michel Pharaon said: “What happened with Judge Sawan was a blow to the investigation process that could have been avoided through treatment and correction. We are ashamed of the republic that brazenly seeks to conceal facts at the expense of the dead bodies of its people.”
The Lebanese Forces party called for an international fact-finding commission to probe the port explosion.
Party leader Samir Geagea said: “What we had expected happened, and Judge Sawan has been removed after obstacles were put in his way. No one can convince us that the local investigation will yield serious results, so there is no hope in the ruling group.”
The Kataeb (Phalange) Party said that last September it had submitted a review to the UN for an international investigation into the port explosion. “The party will work on another track, which is to restore the independence of the Lebanese judiciary by getting rid of the ruling authority,” it added.