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BEIRUT EXPLOSION

Families of Aug. 4 victims gather for second day to protest appointment of alternative judge

Families of Aug. 4 victims gather for second day to protest appointment of alternative judge

Families of victims of the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion gathered Thursday morning in front of the Justice Palace in Adlieh. (Credit: Mohammad Yassine/L'Orient Today)

BEIRUT — Families of the victims of the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion gathered Thursday morning in front of the Justice Palace in Adlieh, for the second day in a row, decrying a Tuesday decision by the Higher Judicial Council to appoint an alternate investigative judge in the blast probe. The protest began around 7 a.m., but only a few people showed up, according to our journalist on the ground.

On Thursday afternoon, the Beirut Bar Association also rejected the decision of the Higher Judicial Council. "After the appointment of an investigating judge at the Court of Justice, in accordance with the law and in order for him to carry out a specific mission, it is not possible to appoint a substitute judge," the body said after a meeting chaired by the President of the Beirut Bar Association Nader Gaspard. The Bar Association invoked the "need to respect the laws and principles governing the courts," adding that "the investigation cannot be conducted by several investigators." According to them, the leaders must "protect the magistrates, respect the law and the essential principles far from politicization and clientelism." 

On Wednesday evening, the families of the victims protested in front of caretaker Justice Minister Henri Khoury's apartment in Hazmieh. The families were seen gathering on the fourth floor of the building where Khoury reportedly lives. "You are assassinating the law, they are assassinating our case," one protester said.

In a telephone interview with television station Al-Jadeed on Wednesday evening, Khoury said that the Higher Judicial Council "did not yet appoint any judge and ... did not remove" current investigation Judge Tarek Bitar from his post. "There is no political interference in the port blast file and I am not the decision maker," Khoury also said.

Earlier on Wednesday morning, the family members organized a sit-in in front of the Justice Palace to protest against the decision of the Higher Judicial Council.

Almost two years after the tragedy, the investigation has been stalled by multiple political maneuvers and is currently suspended due to the different complaints filed against Bitar, notably by MPs Ghazi Zeaiter, Ali Hassan Khalil and former Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos — who are all suspects in the investigation and have had warrants filed for their arrest. Despite them being suspects in the investigation, Zeaiter and Khalil were elected to Lebanon's Parliament in May 2022.

Caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, who is close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, was accused of impeding the investigation by not signing judicial appointments, which have been blocked for several months for political reasons, putting the port blast probe on hold.

Additional reporting by Mohammad Yassine

BEIRUT — Families of the victims of the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion gathered Thursday morning in front of the Justice Palace in Adlieh, for the second day in a row, decrying a Tuesday decision by the Higher Judicial Council to appoint an alternate investigative judge in the blast probe. The protest began around 7 a.m., but only a few people showed up, according to our journalist on the...