The Lebanese attorney general ordered on Wednesday release all suspects detained in the deadly Beirut port explosion in 2020according to what was indicated by the lawyer of two prisoners and judicial officials.
“We have decided to release, without exception, all those detained in the case of the Beirut port explosion and prohibit them from traveling, making them available to the Judicial Council in case it meets and informing whoever is necessary,” reads one notification signed by the prosecutor Ghassan Oweidat.
This decision represents a new setback for the investigation, paralyzed for years. The investigation threatens the ruling elite, plagued by corruption and inefficiency, which has plunged the country into an unprecedented economic crisis.
On Monday, the judge tarek bitar resumed the investigation, halted for 13 months by legal appeals brought by the accused politicians, including the attorney general. He also called the ex-prime minister to testify Hassan Diab and two senior Lebanese commanders.
However, the Prosecutor’s Office considers that Bitar still “has his hands tied” in the case of the explosion, so the process does not have a magistrate who can decide on the appeals presented by the people detained “for more than a year ” in its framework, according to the notification issued today.
Seventeen people have been in pretrial detention since the huge explosion on August 4, 2020. Hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive substance used in fertilizers, were detonated in the port, killing 218 people, injuring more than 6,000 and destroying much of the capital.
Oweidat decided to order the release of the suspects under Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which upholds the detainees’ right to liberty. “Anyone who is arrested on a criminal charge must be immediately brought before a judge or other official authorized by law to exercise judicial power, and must have the right to a trial within a reasonable period of time or be released,” the pact reads. adopted by the UN in 1966.
Lawyer Sakher El Hachemwho defends two of the detainees, told the agency PA that they received confirmation in consultations with judicial officials and that their defendants would be released in the next few hours.
The officials added that Oweidat, who challenged Bitar’s decision to resume the investigation, will file charges against him. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
Bitar, the second judge leading the investigation, has accused a dozen high-ranking political, police and port officials. On Monday he ordered the release of five of the 17 detainees and charged eight officials, including Major General Abbas Ibrahim and the major general Tony Salivaboth from military intelligence, as well as Oweidat.
The judge summoned at least 14 politicians and judicial, security and customs officials to answer questions during February. Since the start of the investigation, several senior officials have refused to appear for questioning.
Bitar took over the investigation after the removal in February 2021 of the judge Fadi Sawwan, accused of bias by two cabinet ministers. Bitar’s removal could mean the end of the process.
Various human rights organizations have accused former senior officials suspected of obstructing the investigation into the explosion, and have called for the opening of an international investigation given the lack of progress in the domestic process two and a half years after the tragedy.
(With information from AP and EFE)
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