An appeals court has rejected a request by former ministers to remove Judge Bitar from the investigation.
Beirut, Lebanon – Beirut’s appeals court has rejected requests to remove Judge Tarek Bitar from the investigation into the explosion in the port of Beirut, which were filed by former ministers charged with the investigation.
The investigation into the port explosion that shook the Lebanese capital was suspended seven days ago after Judge Bitar continued to pursue ex-ministers and other high-ranking political and security officials.
Former ministers Nouhad Machnouk, Ghazi Zeiter and Ali Hasan Khalil accused the judge of bias.
“The court did not consider it justified to grant such a request,” an official told Al Jazeera. “Bitar can now proceed with the investigation.”
Ibrahim Hoteit, spokesman for the families of the victims of the explosion, expressed his satisfaction with the decision but said he remained cautious.
“God would never allow injustice and oppression,” Hotity told Al Jazeera.
“But our joy must be careful, because they… [officials] are mean, and [we must] beware of any traps they want us to fall into.”
Demand the recovery of Bitar
Human rights organizations and families of the victims have vocally supported Bitar. Last Wednesday, some 300 people protested in the Beirut Palace of Justice, condemning accused politicians and demanding the reinstatement of Bitar.
The trio of ministers were fined 800,000 Lebanese pounds ($45) for the claim, because it was arbitrary.
The explosion in Beirut on August 4, 2020 killed more than 200 people after a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate that had been unsafe for years in the harbor was detonated.
About 6,500 people were injured and entire neighborhoods in Lebanon’s capital were destroyed.
The blast was one of the largest recorded non-nuclear explosions and the most destructive incident in the country’s troubled history.
No officials have yet been convicted.
Bitar was appointed last February to continue the investigation after two of the former ministers, Khalil and Zeiter, ousted Bitar’s predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan, over a similar legal complaint.
They argued that he could not conduct the investigation fairly because his house was damaged by the explosion.
Human Rights Watch, legal activists and families of the victims of the explosion have accused Lebanon’s political elite of obstructing the investigation and fear “total impunity” for the officials involved.
Some have called for an international investigation, which they say would be technically more effective and prevent constant obstruction.
UN experts have reiterated these demands and the European Parliament recently passed a new resolution on Lebanon calling for the same.