William Noun, port of Beirut explosion, and Lebanon's decaying justice system
The activist was arrested for protesting against the slow pace of the investigation, now in its fourteenth month. He was later released on bail. His brother was one of the 235 people killed in the blast. The imam of the Jbeil mosque and the Maronite patriarch expressed their support for him. The latter slammed the security services for acting like those of a police state and the justice system for seeking revenge.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Fearful of a possible return to the police state imposed by Syria in the 1990s and the aftermath of the Taif Accords, people became afraid for William Noun, but unexpectedly, grassroots mobilisation got the better of the police in collusion with some judges in the pay of politicians.
Following an informal phone call and an arrest warrant, state security last Friday arrested activist William Noun, spokesperson for one of the groups representing the families of the victims of the huge explosion on 4 August 2020 at the Port of Beirut, which killed 235 people.
Noun, whose firefighter brother was killed in the explosion, was released Saturday night following large-scale protests that included some lawmakers, as well as the imam of the Jbeil mosque and the Maronite patriarch.
Despite the cold and the rain, heavy at times, a crowd besieged the headquarters of the State Security where the activist was taken the day before.
Thanks to TV stations that gave exceptional coverage to the sit-in until well into the night, William Noun was finally released before the usual 48-hour remand. Among the protesters were William’s mother, Zeina Noun, and MP Melhem Khalaf, a former head of the Beirut Bar Association, who refused to leave without him, despite warnings.
The activist is accused of breaking some windows of the Beirut Courthouse last Tuesday during a sit-in against the slow pace of the investigation, now in its fourteenth month. He is also accused of verbally threatening to use dynamite against the courthouse if the case did not pick pace.
Upon his release, William was met with a standing ovation, but he used this occasion to divert the crowd’s attention from himself in favour of the investigation into the 4 August 2020 blast.
“We want the truth about the explosion that took my brother's life, nothing more," he said. “We know that the investigation into the perpetrators of this collective crime is hampered by the Shia tandem, led by Hezbollah, thanks to a series of formal and substantive objections raised against the investigating magistrate Tarek Bitar.”
Commenting on the arbitrary procedure, Kataeb party leader Sami Gemayel slammed the act of intimidation that evinces the politicisation of the judiciary. “The victim is in prison and the culprits are free,” he lamented.
It is public knowledge that Judge Tarek Bitar has issued arrest warrants against several transport ministers, including two ministers from the Amal movement, with the accused raising legitimate suspicion against the procedure.
The absurdity of the situation is even clearer when we know that the Director of State Security, General Tony Saliba, is facing prosecution for dereliction of duty in connection with the investigation into the 4 August 2020 explosion.
What is more, the inquiry is being held up by attempts to get Judge Bitar disqualified, and the bad faith shown by the groups involved in the case.
Al-Rahi: “a decaying justice system”
“Already deeply wounded by the loss of his brother in the explosion at the Port of Beirut, our dear William Noun is the one who was arrested,” said Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi in his Sunday homily in Bkerké. “What we are witnessing is a decaying justice system [. . .] become a tool of revenge, wickedness and hatred” with “the security forces performing police state practices”.
The head of the Maronite Church indirectly accuses some powerful groups of trying to take away certain key positions that belong to the Maronites.
“How is it that no satellite passed over the Eastern Mediterranean basin and Lebanon on the evening of 4 August 2020 (6:07 pm local time),” he asked, “when the explosion of ammonium nitrate was ranked among the biggest non-atomic explosions of the post-World War II period?”
What the Patriarch wants to know is why no international cooperation is forthcoming to help Lebanon understand what triggered the explosion on 4 August, knowing that some have accused Israel of firing a missile at the hangar where the nitrate was stored and that Lebanese authorities have asked several major powers without success to provide them with satellite images of the port at the time of the explosion.
Today William Noun and nine other people appeared again in court in connection with last Tuesday's scuffle with police. All were released on bail but placed under house arrest.