Lebanese MPs denounce top prosecutor's moves against judge probing port blast

  • World
  • Friday, 27 Jan 2023

FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators hold a black and white Lebanese flag during a protest for families of the victims of the 2020 Beirut port explosion against Lebanon's top public prosecutor who charged the judge investigating the Beirut port blast and ordered the release of those detained in connection with the explosion in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut, Lebanon January 26, 2023. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Some 40 Lebanese lawmakers on Friday became the latest group to back the judge investigating the catastrophic 2020 Beirut port blast and call for the country's top prosecutor to be held accountable for steps taken against the judge and his probe.

Judge Tarek Bitar on Monday resumed his probe into the blast that killed more than 220 people after a 13-month suspension caused by legal wrangling and high-level political pressure.

He issued charges against senior security, political and judicial officials, including top public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat.

Though previously recused from the case due to a conflict of interest, Oueidat filed charges against Bitar for allegedly mishandling the inquiry and released the remaining 17 detainees still held over the investigation.

The group of lawmakers backing Bitar represents under a third of Lebanon's 128-member legislature and includes independent MPs backed by civil society groups, the Kataeb party and the Christian Lebanese Forces party.

The lawmakers in a statement said Oueidat should be "immediately held accountable for flagrant violations he has committed and his direct interference... and the release of detainees without the authority to do so."

Oueidat could not be reached for comment on Friday.

He has defended his decisions, telling Reuters on Thursday that it was Bitar who had violated legal principles by resuming his probe based on what he considered a shoddy legal justification.

Oueidat's decisions have been backed by the heavily armed Hezbollah group which has opposed Bitar's probe after he sought to question and prosecute some of its friends and allies.

The Lebanese Judges Association, representing a fifth of Lebanon's 500-member judiciary, said Oueidat's decisions "went beyond all limits and principles in a flagrant manner that destroys the foundations of justice."

It said judges who have "sold themselves in service of political authorities" should resign and be held accountable.

The Beirut Bar Association, representing lawyers, said that Oueidat's decisions "constituted an abuse of power and a violation of the law".

The tussle leaves little hope of justice being served over the deadly explosion that devastated swathes of Beirut, raising concern the case will go the way of countless others in a country where impunity has long been the norm.

(Reporting by Timour Azhari; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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