BEIRUT — "Outlaws."
On the eve of the third anniversary of the Aug. 4, 2020, tragedy, civil society groups didn't conceal their anger for politicians and high-ranking officials who are implicated in the investigation into the deadly Beirut port explosion.
Approximately ten activists gathered outside the Palace of Justice on Thursday to demand accountability. The investigation into the blast has been stalled for several months due to political interference from all sides.
The protesters carried and threw posters depicting several individuals prosecuted by Judge Tarek Bitar — who heads the investigation — including former minister and deputy Nouhad Machnouk, former Lebanese Army commander-in-chief Jean Kahwaji, former director of General Security Abbas Ibrahim, and former ministers Ghazi Zaiter and Ali Hassan Khalil.
Referring to these individuals as "outlaws," the demonstrators called for them to be held accountable.
"Over 200 victims. Is it shameful to see the [photos of] criminals on the ground? No!" exclaimed one activist in a video circulating on social media. "Remain respectful," responded lawyer Mohammad Zaiter, picking up the photos of his father, Ghazi Zaiter.
صور المدعى عليهم في تفجير 4 آب على أرض قصر العدل ونجل زعيتر يزيل صور والده وخاله عويدات— Legal Agenda (@Legal_Agenda) August 3, 2023
دخل ناشطون وناشطات من شبكة "مدى" قصر العدل في بيروت اليوم الخميس ووضعوا صورًا للمدعى عليهم في #تفجير_مرفأ_بيروت على الأرض، هاتفين بشعارات منددة بالمعرقلين للتحقيقات في الجريمة.
وصادف وجود… pic.twitter.com/tEPJEBe3D0
Contacted by L’Orient Today, Karim Safieddine, a coordinator within the Mada network, stated that the protest is part of "the political battle [we] are waging" to seek justice.
"Our goal is not only to highlight the commemoration of Aug. 4, but also to challenge the status quo," he added. "This was also our intention when we painted Martyrs' Square and the Palace of Justice in red."
To Safieddine, "the fact that Ghazi Zeaiter's son removed the photos of his father and kept those of the other individuals being pursued shows how abnormal the situation is. The lawyer wants to protect his father from shame."
More than 220 people were killed, over 6,500 others were injured, and entire neighborhoods of the capital were devastated by the horrifying explosion, caused by the ignition of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the port. The ammonium nitrate had been in storage since 2013 without safety measures.
On Tuesday, 15 ambassadors from countries that signed the joint declaration on the Beirut port explosion at the United Nations Human Rights Council urged Lebanese authorities to expedite the investigation into the tragedy and expressed their concern about its "ongoing obstruction."
Several high-ranking officials and politicians pursued by Bitar have refused to appear in court.
On the commemoration of the third anniversary of the tragedy, families of victims are planning a gathering at 4:00 p.m. at the Quarantaine Fire Brigade, located a few hundred meters from the port. The march will then proceed to the Emigrant's Statue, facing the site of the tragedy.
A gathering at the Trocadéro Square in Paris is also planned.