Concern in Lebanon over judicial decisions targeting opponents of Hezbollah, Free Patriotic Movement

Buildings are seen in Beirut, Lebanon September 26, 2018. (REUTERS)
Buildings are seen in Beirut, Lebanon September 26, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Updated 25 March 2022

Concern in Lebanon over judicial decisions targeting opponents of Hezbollah, Free Patriotic Movement

Buildings are seen in Beirut, Lebanon September 26, 2018. (REUTERS)
  • Banks protest as judge blocks lenders from moving money abroad
  • Judiciary tightens noose around central bank chief
  • Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea faces new charges over Oct. 14 Tayyouneh incidents

BEIRUT: Lebanese media outlets expressed concern on Friday over creeping examples of “employing the judiciary for sectarian and electoral political goals.”

It followed controversial Lebanese judge and Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Ghada Aoun’s fresh measures against the country’s embattled banking sector.

Aoun issued a new decision on Thursday evening banning six banks from transferring funds abroad.

The move coincided with the judiciary tightening the noose around the governor of the Banque du Liban, Riad Salameh.

The first investigative judge in Mount Lebanon, Nicolas Mansour, summoned Salameh for a hearing next Thursday.

The judge stressed that an arrest warrant would be issued against the central bank governor if he failed to attend the hearing.

Mansour also issued an adversarial arrest warrant against Salameh’s brother, Rajah Salameh, ordering he be kept in custody until next week based on charges of alleged illicit enrichment and money laundering.

In response to Aoun’s recent decision, the Association of Banks in Lebanon said in a statement on Friday that such decisions showed a lack of knowledge of banking activity and its role in the national economy, and a complete disregard for the law.

The statement said the judge’s decision could harm depositors who “will not obtain their rights once banks collapse and the country follows.”

The association added: “The funds transferred by banks feed their accounts abroad, allowing them to fulfill their obligations, especially those resulting from opening credits for imports.

“Preventing banks from transferring funds abroad leads to shutting down their accounts and preventing imports, directly affecting the banks’ local clients.”

The association’s lawyer Akram Azoury sent an open letter to the head of Lebanon’s public prosecutions, Judge Ghassan Oweidat, appealing to him to stop the implementation of Aoun’s decision.

Azoury said that it would “harm the core of the banking sector and the principle of freedom of transfers and freedom of trade, which Lebanon has always adopted.”

He noted that such a decision falls exclusively within the jurisdiction of the legislative authority, and this measure will further deteriorate the exchange rate of the Lebanese pound against the dollar.

The banks’ protest continued as Government Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Fadi Akiki filed new charges of attempted murder and inciting sectarian strife against Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, over the Oct. 14 Tayyouneh incident.

Akiki referred the case to the first military investigative judge, Fadi Sawan, requesting that Geagea be interrogated.

The plaintiff in the Tayouneh case had refused to receive complaints and reviews submitted by the Lebanese Forces since investigations began.

The Lebanese Forces party accuses Hezbollah and the Amal Movement of bringing their members into Christian-majority areas five months ago, and of destroying people’s property, which led to a confrontation with the residents of the area that descended into bloody armed clashes.

Political observers believe that the successive judicial decisions seem to target “the opponents of Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement and its Christian ally the Free Patriotic Movement, by making the judicary a tool for settling political and electoral scores.”

Former judge and Lebanese Forces MP George Okais said that the accusation against Geagea “is political, and whoever thinks they can wage a judicial war of elimination are mistaken.”

Lebanese Forces MP Ziad Hawat criticized the judiciary’s recent actions that “damage the foundations of the state.”

The Future Movement expressed shock at the “subversive approach, which uses the judiciary as a tool to destroy what remains of the components of public order and Lebanon’s economic identity.”

Commenting on the allegations against Geagea, it said: “Such actions harm the Lebanese judiciary as an authority concerned with protecting civil peace.

“How can the judiciary be fair and impartial, when it resorts to taking retaliatory measures in the interest of a political group, turning a blind eye to financial, political and security crimes, and not moving a finger to implement rulings issued by the highest judicial authorities in the world against criminals involved in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and similar issues?”

The Future Movement also noted: “Some want the judiciary to be a partisan farm that operates on demand. It’s time for the Supreme Judicial Council to take matters into its own hands.”


Critics of Iran’s pandemic mismanagement must be freed, urges rights group

Critics of Iran’s pandemic mismanagement must be freed, urges rights group
Updated 23 sec ago

Critics of Iran’s pandemic mismanagement must be freed, urges rights group

Critics of Iran’s pandemic mismanagement must be freed, urges rights group
  • Five activists face up to four-year jail terms for engaging in constitutional rights

LONDON: Iranian authorities are facing pressure from a leading human rights NGO to quash the convictions of five activists who face up to four years in prison for filing a complaint against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mehdi Mahmoudian and Mostafa Nili were each sentenced to four-year jail terms and two-year bans from media appearances, while Arash Keykhosravi, Mohammadreza Faghili, and Maryan Afrafaraz face two years, one year, and 95 days in prison respectively.
Human Rights Watch is calling for their release amid a broader crackdown on political activism by the Tehran regime.
Tara Sepehri Far, a senior Iran researcher at HRW, said: “Sending human rights defenders to prison for attempting to hold the government accountable for its dismal mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis is sadly an unsurprising outcome in Iran.
“Iranian judicial authorities seem more concerned with protecting the state from scrutiny than delivering justice for ordinary people.”
The convictions follow the August 2021 arrests of seven human rights defenders, four of whom are lawyers, as they prepared to file the complaint in the court under Iranian law over the authorities’ mismanagement of the pandemic response.
Under article 34 of the Iranian Constitution, “it is the indisputable right of every citizen to seek justice by recourse to a competent court” with articles 170 and 173 stating every citizen has the right to complain before a court when the government’s rules and regulations conflict with laws or norms.
The country’s national pandemic task force was specifically identified in their complaint, with the health minister and other officials also facing the scrutiny of the activists.
Of the seven arrested, Leila Heydari and Mohammad Hadi Erfanian, both lawyers, were released without charge after a few hours, with the rest facing charges including “establishing an illegal group” and “propaganda against the state.”
Mahmoudian is already serving a four-year prison sentence he received on what HRW calls “politically motivated” charges of “propaganda against the state,” and “assembly and collusion to act against national security.”
These charges were brought for his support for victims of state repression including for calling for a vigil for the victims of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 in January 2020.
Sepehri Far added: “Human rights defenders in Iran should be able to carry out their peaceful activities without fear of state reprisal.”
Despite being hit by more than 140,000 deaths linked to COVID-19, Iranian authorities initially banned procuring vaccines produced in the US and Britain, choosing instead to prioritize and promote the production of a domestic vaccine with substantial government resources.


Senior UK politicians warn new Iran nuclear deal would ‘destabilize Middle East’

Senior UK politicians warn new Iran nuclear deal would ‘destabilize Middle East’
The changes include introduction of a stricter monitoring regime of Iranian nuclear activity. (File/AFP)
Updated 5 min 26 sec ago

Senior UK politicians warn new Iran nuclear deal would ‘destabilize Middle East’

Senior UK politicians warn new Iran nuclear deal would ‘destabilize Middle East’
  • Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs support former Conservative cabinet ministers urging changes to the new draft agreement

LONDON: Three former British cabinet ministers are set to warn that a renegotiated Iran nuclear deal would destabilize the Middle East, in a warning shot to government support for the agreement.

Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, former Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, and former Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb are all backing a motion to be debated in Parliament that lists a string of proposed changes to the draft they say will impede Tehran’s drive towards nuclear weapons.

The changes include introduction of a stricter monitoring regime of Iranian nuclear activity and taking a tougher approach to policing Iran’s “destabilizing” activities.

The motion to be debated today states: “This House expresses grave concern at the imminent prospect of a nuclear armed Iran; calls on the Government in its ongoing negotiations in respect of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement to seek to extend the sunset clauses, enact a stricter monitoring regime, retain terrorist proscriptions, and expand its scope to include Iran’s other destabilising activities in the region.”

The Tory MPs and supporters from opposition parties Labour and the Liberal Democrats are understood to be concerned by the current reworked agreement, which remains subject to negotiations, and is looking to replace the 2015 deal that the US withdrew from under former President Donald Trump.

That original Iran nuclear deal, termed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed with the UK, the US, China, France, Germany, Russia and the EU, and saw Tehran agree to curb its nuclear development in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Jenrick said: “The JCPOA was an inadequate response to Iran’s nuclear programme back in 2015. Why would we return to the deal when it has singularly failed to curtail Iran’s uranium enrichment?

“At this critical juncture, the West urgently needs to change tack in its strategy. Weakly tolerating Iran’s aggression and flagrant breaches out of fear of talks collapsing has led us down a dangerous path. It is time for a more robust approach, reimposing snapback sanctions on Iran and tightening the economic screw until Iran is willing to countenance serious proposals.”

He added: “The UK should follow in the footsteps of the US and proscribe the Iranian revolutionary guards corps a terrorist organisation.”


UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria

UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria
Updated 30 June 2022

UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria

UAE sends tons of food aid to Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria
  • There are currently over 90,000 Ukraine refugees in Bulgaria

DUBAI: The UAE has dispatched a plane carrying 52 metric tons of food supplies to support Ukrainian refugees in Bulgaria, Emirates news agency (WAM) reported on Thursday.

The aid comes as part of efforts “to alleviate the humanitarian impact faced by Ukrainian refugees” in nearby countries, the statement read.

There are currently over 90,000 Ukraine refugees in Bulgaria.

Earlier this month, the UAE sent a plane carrying 27 tons of food and medical supplies to Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Since the outset of the war in Ukraine, the country has dispatched six planes to Poland and Moldova, carrying 156 tons of food and medical aid and ambulances, as part of a $5m donation.


Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister

Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister
Updated 30 June 2022

Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister

Turkey records first case of monkeypox — health minister
  • The patient has an immune system deficiency
  • Virus identified in over 50 new countries outside Africa

ISTANBUL: Turkey has detected its first case of monkeypox in a 37-year-old patient who is in isolation, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Thursday.
The virus has been identified in more than 50 new countries outside the countries in Africa where it is endemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) says cases are also rising in those countries, calling for testing to be ramped up.
“Monkeypox has been detected in one of our patients. The patient is 37 years old and has an immune system deficiency,” Koca wrote on Twitter.
He said the patient was in isolation and contact follow-up had been conducted, with no other case found.
There have been more than 3,400 cases of monkeypox, and one death, since the outbreak began in May, according to a WHO tally. There have also been more than 1,500 cases and 66 deaths in countries this year where it more usually spreads.
Last week, the WHO ruled that the outbreak did not yet represent a public health emergency, its highest level of alert.


Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election

Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election
Updated 30 June 2022

Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election

Israel parliament dissolves itself, sets Nov. 1 election
  • The final dissolution bill ends year-long premiership of Naftali Bennett
  • Bennett said he will not stand in the Nov. 1 election, which will see Benjamin Netanyahu attempt to reclaim power

JERUSALEM:Israeli lawmakers dissolved parliament on Thursday, forcing the country’s fifth election in less than four years, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid set to take over as caretaker prime minister at midnight.
The final dissolution bill, which passed with 92 votes in favor none against, ends the year-long premiership of Naftali Bennett, who led an eight-party coalition that was backed by an Arab party, a first in Israeli history.
Following the vote, Lapid and Bennett immediately swapped seats in the parliament — the Knesset — and Lapid was embraced by members of his centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party.
Bennett said late Wednesday that he will not stand in the upcoming election set for Nov. 1, which will see veteran right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu attempt to reclaim power.
Netanyahu has promised that his alliance of right-wingers, ultra-nationalists and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties will win the upcoming vote, but opinion polls show he may also struggle to rally a parliamentary majority.
Bennett will host Lapid for a handover ceremony later Thursday, the prime minister’s office said.
The outgoing premier will also hand the leadership of his religious nationalist Yamina party to his long-time political ally, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Netanyahu’s main challenger will likely be long-time foe Lapid, a former celebrity news anchor who has surprised many since being dismissed as a lightweight when he entered politics a decade ago.
Bennett’s motley alliance formed with Lapid in June 2021 offered a reprieve from an unprecedented era of political gridlock, ending Netanyahu’s record 12 consecutive years in power and passing Israel’s first state budget since 2018.
As pair announced plans to end their coalition last week, Lapid sought to cast Netanyahu’s potential return to office as a national threat.
“What we need to do today is go back to the concept of Israeli unity. Not to let dark forces tear us apart from within,” Lapid said.
Bennett led a coalition of right-wingers, centrists, doves and Islamists from the Raam faction, which made history by becoming the first Arab party to support an Israeli government since the Jewish state’s creation.
But the alliance, united by its desire to oust Netanyahu and break a damaging cycle of inconclusive elections, was imperilled from the outset by its ideological divides.
Bennett said the final straw was a failure to renew a measure that ensures the roughly 475,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank live under Israeli law.
Some Arab lawmakers in the coalition refused to back a bill they said marked a de facto endorsement of a 55-year occupation that has forced West Bank Palestinians to live under Israeli rule.
For Bennett, a staunch supporter of settlements, allowing the so-called West Bank law to expire was intolerable. Dissolving parliament before its June 30 expiration temporarily renews the measure.
In the weeks before his coalition unraveled, Bennett sought to highlight its successes, including what he characterised as proof that ideological rivals can govern together.
“No one should give up their positions, but it is certainly possible and necessary to put aside, for a while, ideological debates and take care of the economy, security and future of the citizens of Israel,” he said in his farewell address Wednesday, which did not rule out a eventual return to politics.
Bennett will stay on as alternate prime minister responsible for Iran policy, as world powers take steps to revive stalled talks on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Israel opposes a restoration of the 2015 agreement that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear program.
Lapid will retain his foreign minister title while serving as Israel’s 14th premier. He will find himself under an early microscope, with US President Joe Biden due in Jerusalem in two weeks.