Lebanon’s top Christian spiritual leader Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rhi on Sunday lamented slammed the judges that taking part in impeding, suspending or freezing the probe into the devastating port bombing by questioning the work of the investigative Judge Tarek Bitar .”
His remarks appear to targeted Court of Appeals judge Habib Mezher who on Thursday suspended Judge Tarek Bitar’s probe in a controversial move. Mezher is reportedly close to Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, which are both strongly opposed to Bitar’s role.
“It is a crime when some judges turn the judiciary into partisan and sectarian squares, especially in the port and Ain al-Remmaneh cases,” al-Rai said in his Sunday Mass sermon.
He added: “In the face of the legal violations that we are witnessing, we wonder whether some judges act at the request of some officials, parties and sects.”
“What’s happening regarding the probe into the port bombing is really deplorable: an appeal after an appeal, a recusal request after a recusal request and a suspension after a suspension, as the souls of the martyrs wait, as the families of the martyrs wait and as the world waits,” the patriarch went on to say.
“Why is there such disregard for the blood of more than 218 victims and 7,000 wounded people, for the destruction of half of Beirut and its suburbs and for the displacement of hundreds of families?” al-Rai wondered.
Port victims’ families to sue Mezher
In a related development the lawyers of the families of the Beirut port blast victims are preparing to take a host of legal measures Monday against Court of Appeals judge Habib Mezher, amid calls for the Higher Judicial Council to penalize him for “committing a blatant violation” and to refer him to judicial inspection, media reports said on Saturday.
The Mutahiddoun activist group meanwhile said that its lawyer Rami Ollaiq has filed a recusal lawsuit against Mezher before the Court of Appeals, noting that the judge “has political connections directly linked to the figures who have been summoned for interrogation, which allows for legitimate suspicion over his role and the motives of his decision in terms of the lack of objectivity, neutrality and impartiality.”
Mezher sparked controversy after he started looking into a recusal lawsuit filed against Bitar. Court of Appeals head Habib Rizkallah later announced that he had “exclusively” tasked Mezher with handling a recusal lawsuit against Court of Appeals judge Nassib Elia, which is separate from the one filed against Bitar.
Bitar’s probe into the port case was suspended on Thursday after Mezher notified him of a lawsuit filed against him by ex-minister Youssef Fenianos an ally of Hezbollah . Mezher also asked Bitar to hand over the details of the case to enable the court to review the lawsuit.
The Beirut-based rights group Legal Agenda warned that Mezher’s request to see the full content of the investigation violates the secrecy of the probe. The group also said that Mezher’s known opinions critical of Bitar may constitute bias.