BEIRUT — Relatives of victims of the deadly Aug. 4 port explosion organized a sit-in outside the Beirut Courts of Justice Tuesday to protest the appointment of a substitute judge in the investigation.
Relatives of detainees in the same investigation held a simultaneous demonstration in support the appointment, because such a judge would be empowered to rule on release requests. Inside the courthouse, the Higher Judicial Council debated the appointment of the new judge.
In the afternoon, the HJC ended its meeting without disclosing the outcome the discussions. A source within the HJC told L'Orient-Le Jour that the Council has no obligation to make its deliberations public and, if there is a decision, it should be sent to the Ministry of Justice.
Local television footage showed dozens of people gathered in two separate sit-ins near the courthouse. "We will not accept another judge!" one woman shouted, holding up a photo of her son who was killed in the Aug. 4 blast that claimed more than 220 lives and injured more than 6,500.
"If you want to appoint a substitute judge, bring my son back to me, get him out of the ground!" she continued, her voice trembling with anger.
"We are victims just like you," said another woman with the counter demonstration, only a few meters away. "We have been oppressed, persecuted and arrested for two years," said another.
Detainees in the investigation have not been tried and their release requests are still pending, as investigating judge Tarek Bitar faces multiple recusal requests prosecuted political officials. The director of customs, Badri Daher, has been detained since August 2020.
The appointment of a substitute judge in the investigation remains controversial. Since the HJC announced their intention to name an alternate judge, at the request of outgoing Justice Minister Henri Khoury, protests are multiplying.
Victims' families regularly demonstrate against what they consider to be yet another political interference in an already-gridlocked investigation. L'Orient-Le Jour recently learned from judicial sources that Khoury proposed the name of Samaranda Nassar, the first investigating judge in North Lebanon, but the HJC has yet to reach a final decision.