BEIRUT — Relatives of those killed in the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port blast held a sit-in Saturday at the Statue of the Expatriate facing the port entrance to commemorate 22 months since the catastrophe which killed more than 200 people and wounded 6,500 others.
Here’s what we know:
• The relatives demanded justice, carrying signs calling for it and portraits of those killed. “What have you done until now, after two years? Where is justice?” one man cried.
• Caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, was accused of impeding the investigation by not signing judicial appointments, which have been blocked for several months due to political reasons, leaving the port blast probe on hold.
• In April, Khalil refused to sign appointments to the Court of Cassation due to what he described to be “serious errors,” without giving further detail. Despite the caretaker minister’s assurance that he would address the errors, no advance has yet been made.
• Local media reports later Saturday evening showed some of the victims’ relatives assembled outside Khalil’s residence, carrying portraits of the victims and signs bearng slogans condemning the last of justice to date for those killed. Some demonstrators had painted their hands with red paint and proceeded to imprint the building’s facade with their palms and paint graffiti condemning Khalil.
• On Friday, Helene Atta, spokesperson for the relatives and sister of Abdo Atta, who was killed during the explosion, called during a press conference for “the urgent adoption of a law on the independence of the judiciary.” She also called for the “end of immunity” and for “accountability” in the port blast investigation. During the conference, the relatives also expressed hope that the investigation would be a priority for the new MPs elected on May 15.
• Almost two years after the tragedy, the investigation is slowed by multiple political maneuvers and is currently suspended due to different complaints filed by political figures, notably MPs Ghazi Zeaiter, Ali Hassan Khalil and former Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos, against the lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar. The blast victims’ relatives have repeatedly called on authorities to expedite the judicial appointments to allow the investigation to continue.