This content was published on Oct 03, 2021 – Jul 17:24,
October 03, 2021 – 17:24
AMMAN (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi said on Sunday the government must stop any interference in the work of the judiciary, after lawsuits halted the investigation into last year’s massive explosion in the port of Beirut.
The investigation was suspended last Monday when a former minister wanted for questioning on suspicion of negligence filed a lawsuit challenging the impartiality of the judge leading the investigation, Tariq Bitar.
The move followed a smear campaign by the Lebanese political elite on Bitar and a warning from the Iran-aligned Hezbollah group that he would be removed.
In a sermon on Sunday, the patriarch, who is highly critical of Hezbollah, said political pressure on Bitar had weakened the judiciary’s authority and could threaten international aid to Lebanon.
Al-Rahi said, “We cannot insist on investigating the crime of the port, and we will refrain from defending the judicial investigator and the judiciary.”
He added, “It is true that the government is not allowed to interfere in judicial affairs, but its duty is to intervene to stop any interference in judicial affairs.”
The explosion that occurred on August 4, 2020, in the port of Beirut, which was caused by a huge amount of ammonium nitrate that was stored unsafely, killed more than 200 people, but after more than a year, no one has been held accountable.
Bitar is the second judge to hold the investigation under his presidency due to pressures from powerful groups in Lebanon, where the lack of a high level of accountability is attributed to systemic corruption, rigid governance and economic collapse.
Former investigative judge Fadi al-Sawwan, Bitar’s predecessor, was dismissed last February for similar reasons.
Last month, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused Bitar of being involved in politics, but said he was not calling for his immediate removal. It was reported that a senior official in the group later threatened to dismiss Bitar.
A judicial source said the judiciary was collecting information about the threat. Hezbollah officials and the justice minister could not be reached for comment.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he hoped Bitar would stay at work, adding that security measures had been taken because of the threats, but he said it was up to the judiciary to freeze the investigation.
(Press coverage by Suleiman Al-Khalidi – Prepared by Mohamed Abdellah for the Arab Bulletin – Edited by Hassan Ammar)