Families of Beirut port explosion victims protest against the suspension of the investigation following the devastating explosion, saying the probe is the “last chance for accountability” in Lebanon.
About 300 protesters gathered from the Palace of Justice in Beirut on Wednesday to convict top political officials of trying to oust lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar from the probe after it was suspended on Monday.
Paul Naggear, who lost his three-year-old daughter Alexandra in the explosion, was angry that the investigation had been suspended. He compared Lebanese officials to criminals.
“Even if it is expected of the Mafia, it is frightening,” Naggear told the media.
Protesters held portraits of family members they lost in the blast.
Among them was 17-year-old Christelle Merhi, whose father Joseph worked in Beirut harbor and was killed in the explosion.
“If we do not demand the truth, then we will never know what happened to the victims,” Merhi told Al Jazeera. “We support Judge Bitar and want him to continue the investigation.”
The Beirut harbor explosion investigation was suspended on Monday after former Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk – who is accused of criminal negligence due to the explosion – formally informed investigator Bitar of his request to release him from the case.
Machnouk, a sitting parliamentarian, along with former Public Minister Youssef Finianos, asked to remove Bitar from last week’s explosion investigation, accusing the judge of bribery and abuse.
The legal complaint based on “legitimate suspicions” is similar to complaints made in December 2020 by former Minister Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeiter against Judge Bitar’s predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan.
Khalil and Zeiter accused Sawan of not being able to conduct a fair investigation because his Beirut residence was damaged in the blast. Sawan withdrew from the investigation in February.