In the aftermath of a protest on January 10, 2023 by the families of the victims of the Port Explosion against the illegal appointment of an alternative judge in the investigation of the explosion, 12 family members of the victims were summoned by the Judicial Police on request of the Public Prosecution Office for questioning on January 16 on charges of rioting and vandalizing the Justice Palace in Adliyeh. On January 13, William Noun, brother of firefighter Joe Noun killed while attempting to put out the fire that sparked the Port Explosion, was summoned by the State Security for questioning on charges of threatening the judicial branch when he was expressing his opinion and anger on TV. Noun’s residence was also raided by State Security as his investigation began. Later that night, Appellate Public Prosecutor in Beirut, Judge Zaher Hamade, issued a notice for the arrest of Noun and the latter remained in detention at the State Security till his release on the 14th of January.
It’s important to note that, since July 2021, General Antoine Saliba, head of State Security, the agency that detained Noun, has been a suspect in the investigation for the Port Explosion. He has so far refused to be questioned by the judiciary and has not been brought for investigation by any security institution, as he continues to enjoy protection – a violation for the judicial path, due processes, the independence of the judiciary, and the right of victims to justice.
On January 13 and 14, the Lebanese Armed Forces also used force against peaceful protesters, demonstrating against Noun’s arrest, to stop their attempts at blocking the road in Jbeil, using batons and the back of their rifles to beat civilians, including religious leaders and MP Ziad Hawat. State Security also beat individuals present in front of the State Security headquarter in Ramleh Bayda, also using batons against individuals that included religious leaders and MP Elias Hankache. The use of force by the LAF and State Security against peaceful protestors is a blatant violation of individuals’ freedom of peaceful assembly and association and right to protest. ALEF – act for human rights calls for an investigation into the behavior of these security agencies and for holding perpetrators of the unjustified use of force accountable for their actions. We continue to stress on the importance of improving the current legal framework governing the use of force in Lebanon and its respect of international human rights principles.
Moreover, the handling of Noun’s arrest by two separate authorities is unprecedent and violates Noun’s judicial rights.
ALEF – act for human rights is deeply concerned by the rampant lack of judicial independence in Lebanon and the blatant political interference in the work of the judiciary. The appointment of an alternative judge to Judge Tarek Bitar is a brazen violation to the independence of the investigation of the Port Explosion. All of these indicators reflect the continuing and sharp decline of rule of law in the country and pose a serious risk to the respect of human rights.
ALEF – act for human rights reiterates its call for an urgent international investigation for the Port Explosion, to ensure a fair and public investigation by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal, as the national judiciary in Lebanon has so far proved to be unable and unwilling to hold such an investigation. Though it should go without saying, we also call for the utmost respect towards family members of the victims of the Port Explosion, their grief, and their right to justice, truth, and reparation.