On Friday Lebanese lawmakers held an investigation into the Explosion of the port of Beirut, less than a month before his first birthday, demanding more evidence before lifting immunity for former ministers wanted to be questioned.
Hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizers exploded on the port of Beirut on August 4 last year, killing more than 200 people, injuring thousands and devastating areas of the capital.
Later, it emerged that officials had learned that the explosive substance had been safely stored in the port for years.
Earlier this month, the chief judge in the case, Tareq Bitar, said he had asked parliament raise immunity of former finance minister Ali Hasan Khalil, former public works minister Ghazi Zaiter and former interior minister Nohad Machnouk.
Bitar said he was looking into possible charges of “probable intent to murder” and “negligence.”
Bitar’s request to interrogate General Abbas Ibrahim, head of the powerful general security agency, was rejected by interim Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy in a letter to the justice minister.
In a statement, Ibrahim said he was subject to the law like all Lebanese, but the probe should be “far from strict political considerations.”
Elie Ferzli, vice-president, said parliament’s administrative and justice committee met on Friday and decided to “ask for all the evidence available in the investigation, and all documents proving suspicion.”
He said the committee would meet once it had received a response, to decide whether or not to waive immunity.
Lawyer and activist Nizar Saghieh said the committee’s request went against the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature, and “violated the confidentiality of the investigation.”
“They’re just trying to buy time,” he accused.
Speaking from Beirut, Ayman Raad, a lawyer representing one of the victims of the blast, told Al Jazeera that Lebanese law stipulates that the judge investigating the coup must have permission to interrogate a public servant from his home. superior.
“The interior minister refused to give permission to the judge to question General Ibrahim, saying that, in his opinion, there was no guilt committed by the general,” Raad said.
“The legal options are … that the attorney general asks the chief judge to skip the authorization that was denied by the minister and gives the authorization to the principal investigator to question the general. That’s what it was. now asked.
“But because of the politicization of the legal system … I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” he said.
The hashtag #lift_immunity_now started trending in Lebanon as protesters gathered outside the residence of parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri where the committee meeting took place.
“Immunity must be lifted immediately,” said Ibrahim Hoteit, a representative of the families of those killed in the blast.
The activist, who lost her brother in the disaster, said the decision was “shameful, given the scale of the crime”.
Protesters then turned to the interior minister after the media said the interim minister had not allowed Bitar to question senior intelligence official Abbas Ibrahim for the blast.
There has been no statement from the minister’s office.
Ibrahim said he was “not above the law” but urged against any “political calculations”.
Outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab has been charged in the poll and Bitar has called him in for questioning.
The judge also said he would seek to question former public minister Yusef Fenianos.
Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for a UN investigation into the blast.
Bitar became the main investigator of the explosion after his predecessor, Judge Fadi Sawan, was fired in February following questions from two former ministers he had blamed for the explosion.
Sawan had accused three former ministers and outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab of negligence. But they refused to be questioned as suspects, accusing him of exceeding their powers.