Dozens gathered Saturday morning in front of the State Security barracks in Ramlet al-Baida, Beirut, in solidarity with William Noun, who was arrested Friday afternoon and whose firefighter brother was killed in Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion.
Noun was detained in relation to two separate cases. He told L'Orient Today on Wednesday that one of the cases is connected to a demonstration that took place on Tuesday in front of Beirut Justice Palace. State Security later summoned Noun for threats he made against the judiciary during a television talk show on Thursday night, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Shortly after noon on Saturday, the demonstrators blocked the road in front of the Ramlet al-Baida barracks, preventing motorists from passing, in a sign of escalation of their protest movement.
Several Forces of Change MPs were present at the mobilization, including Najat Saliba, Mark Daou and Waddah Sadek, in addition to MP Michel Moawad, who is also an official presidential candidate.
A day after a sit-in that brought together several hundred people, victims' relatives and protesters gathered again early on Saturday in front of the barracks, holding portraits of their loved ones who were killed in the port blast. An atmosphere of calm prevailed at the demonstration.
During the afternoon, the protesters chanted the famous "hela ho" slogan from the Oct. 17 protest movement, targeting Judge Zaher Hamadeh and the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation Ghassan Oueidat.
They also shouted "William, we are with you until death!"
Present in front of the barracks, Nancy Noun, William's sister, explained to our reporter that her brother went voluntarily on Friday afternoon to State Security "to sign a report," but State Security kept him detained. Security forces then sent "a patrol of nine agents to search the house," she added. "Without any shame, they even searched through the belongings of Joe," the brother who died on Aug. 4, 2020.
"There was nothing in the house, so they should have released him, but they didn't, they opened file after file" during the interrogation, Nancy told L'Orient-Le Jour. "Why did he break windows of the courthouse? Why did he ask the judge to 'Go and see if we are there?'"
"Instead of going to search people's houses wanted in the investigation of the explosion … that's our state!" she added, calling for a massive mobilization in the streets. Nancy added that if William Noun is not released on Saturday "we will not stand idly by," claiming that the families of the victims are "ready to close the roads in all regions."
William Noun's mother, Zeina, meanwhile said, in tears: "If we remain strong, it is thanks to the presence of people at our side."
'Abuse of power'
Jana Massoud, a 24-year-old student at Saint Joseph University, said she was not at the protest "just for William Noun."
"I am here to denounce the abuse of power. When they arrested William, they showed that they are afraid that the people will unite," she said. "Among the people charged in the investigation of Judge Tarek Bitar, some still hold positions of responsibility, this is not normal."
On Friday, in addition to the sit-in in Beirut, demonstrators blocked the highway in Jbeil, north of Beirut, the region where William Noun and several of the killed firefighters are from. During this mobilization, several people were injured in scuffles between protesters and the army, the NNA reported.
The explosion that killed more than 200 people and devastated entire districts of the capital was triggered in a warehouse housing hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored without precaution and was blamed by a large part of the population on corruption and negligence of the ruling class. Investigating judge Tarek Bitar had attempted to prosecute a former prime minister and four former ministers but was forced to suspend the investigation due to political pressure.
The Lebanese authorities refused an international investigation, which was requested by the victims' relatives and human rights organizations.
Additional reporting by Lyana Alameddine