Experts say judge leading investigation into last year’s explosion at Beirut’s port rattled the country simply by challenging systemic impunity.
By Kareem Chehayeb16 Oct 2021
Beirut, Lebanon – When the Lebanese government announced more than a year ago that the probe into the devastating explosion in Beirut’s port would be conducted domestically, few expected that senior officials would be charged.
But even fewer expected that the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, could rattle the country’s entrenched leadership, which for decades has reigned with impunity and routinely quashed legal investigations that may hold it accountable.
More than 200 people were killed and some 6,500 wounded when hundreds of tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate fertiliser stored in the port for years ignited on August 4, 2020. The explosion wrecked large parts of Beirut and continues to haunt Lebanon, as the country struggles with an economic meltdown that plunged three-quarters of its population into poverty. No officials have been convicted yet.
Bitar’s persistence to pursue senior political and security officials, despite their attempts to delegitimise and remove him, has put the country on notice.
“Judge Bitar is giving the Lebanese hope in the domestic judiciary after many people have totally given up on justice and accountability locally,” Aya Majzoub, Human Rights Watch Lebanon researcher, told Al Jazeera. “He is single-handedly facing off with the entire political establishment that is implicated in the Beirut blast.”
On Thursday, a protest in Beirut by Hezbollah and Amal supporters calling for Bitar’s removal turned into a bloodbath when unidentified snipers fired at the crowd from rooftops, triggering a gun battle that last for more than four hours. Seven civilians and combatants died.
Families of the explosion victims, activists and human rights organisations continue to back Bitar. However, several political and Shiite religious leaders continue to call for his removal and accuse him of bias, accusations dismissed by legal experts and rights groups.
Al Jazeera /YL
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