BEIRUT — "Justice has become a means of revenge, malice and hatred," Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai said Sunday. The remarks came a day after the release of William Noun, a spokesman for one of the groups representing relatives of the victims of the Beirut port explosion and himself the brother of one of the victims. Noun had been detained since Friday after his remarks during Thursday evening during a TV talk show.
Shortly after Noun's release was announcement Saturday, scuffles broke out between protestors in Ramlet al-Baida and riot police in the presence of Kataeb MP Elias Hankash. The violence was quickly contained, and security forces arrested at least one protester. Hours after Noun's arrest Friday night, a sit-in was held in Ramlet al-Baida.
Local media reported Sunday that another demonstration is planned for Monday at 10 A.M. in front of Verdun's Barbar Khazen barracks, to follow the course of the investigation.
The waning of justice
"Our dear William Noun was arrested, he who is already deeply hurt by the loss of his brother in the explosion at the port of Beirut. We have seen that justice has become a means of revenge, malice and hatred, and that the security forces exercise police practices," the head of the Maronite Church castigated in his homily at Bkirki. Noun thanked Rai on Saturday, for being among those who intervened to facilitate his release.
"We are witnessing a waning of justice, since any judge can arrest anyone without thinking about the consequences and justice of his act," the patriarch continued. "Are they not ashamed, those who order to arrest this man and search his house, without even caring about his pain, that of his family and all the relatives of the victims, thus neglecting the will of the people?" Rai asked.
The prelate thanked other members of the clergy for their stance, "as well as some MPs and citizens who denounced these odious practices that undermine the foundations of peace. During Saturday's mobilization, Kataeb MPs Samy Gemayel and Elias Hankash, as well as some figures of the opposition and Forces of Change MPs, including MPs Melhem Khalaf, Waddah Sadek and Marc Daou, joined the victims' relatives.
"What happened around the arrest of a young man who asks for the truth about the explosion that killed his brother, and the military's aggressive treatment of the demonstrators, including a priest, is unacceptable and deplorable," said Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Beirut Elias Audi, as quoted by local media. "Stop these immoral attacks on the relatives of the victims and this disrespect for the law. Let justice prevail."
Parliament and presidential elections
The Maronite patriarch's sermon also returned to the country's political situation, marked by a vacant executive while the country is deep in economic crisis. "All the Lebanese people ask the Parliament and parliamentary groups to stop destroying the country and its institutions and impoverishing its citizens," Rai said. "We call on them to elect a president in accordance with the constitution, a head of state who defends the common good and the constitution, far from personal or sectarian interest."
"If the [presidential] vacancy continues, other vacancies in major judicial, financial, military and diplomatic institutions will follow," the patriarch warned. "We warn now against a plan in preparation that aims to establish a vacancy in the posts [reserved for] Maronites and [other] Christians."
The patriarch said he considered it "shameful" that "Arab and Western countries are holding meetings, discussing how to help Lebanon recover ... while Parliament is closed to voting under the pretext of finding a prior agreement."
After ten parliamentary sessions since last September, devoted to electing a president, MPs have still not chosen a successor for Michel Aoun, who left office October 31. An eleventh session is to be held Thursday, but is likely to end like previous ones.
"You have exhausted all the means, postures and negotiations. You have lost yourselves in challenges and slogans," the prelate concluded, addressing the political class generally. "You have not managed to elect a non-compromise president, nor one of consensus, nor anything."