Obstruction of the Beirut Port Explosion Investigation, Charges Against Judge Tarek Bitar

Obstruction of the Beirut Port Explosion Investigation, Charges Against Judge Tarek Bitar


Vivien Fakhoury

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

On the 23rd of January 2023, Judge Tarek Bitar announced that he will resume his investigation of the August 4th, 2020, Beirut Port explosion, after it had been on pause for more than a year due to legal challenges and political push-back. [1] He will interrogate several senior level officials and politicians who knew of the ammonium nitrate that was stored at the port and avoided getting rid of it in one way or another, despite being aware of how dangerous the material was that Beirut residents were sleeping next to since 2013.

His summons include Hassan Diab, Prime Minister at the time of the blast; Ghazi Zeitar and Nohad Machnouk, former Ministers of Public Works and Interior; Tony Saliba, Director General of State Security; Abbas Ibrahim, Director General of General Security; Assaad Toufeili and Gracia Al-Azzi, Head and member of the Supreme Council of Customs, respectively; Camille Daher, Former Head of Military Intelligence; Jawdat Oueidat and Ghassan Gharzeddine, former senior military intelligence officers; Jean Kahwaji, former army commander; Judges Ghassan Oueidat, Ghassan Khouri, Carla Shawwah, and Jad Maalouf. [2]

The victims’ families hail Judge Bitar as their knight in shining armor and only hope that those responsible will be held accountable. “He is courageous and dared to challenge the very authorities that have been impeding the investigation for two and a half years,” says Cecil Roukoz, who lost her brother in the blast. [3]

However, there is once again major political resistance. Lebanon’s General Prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Oueidat, a suspect in Bitar’s case, has filed charges against Judge Bitar and released the detainees. He claims that Judge Bitar’s resumption of work is illegal since he had been suspended from the case until further notice. [4] Yet, Prosecutor Oueidat himself had been previously recused from the case due to a conflict of interest, throwing into question his authority to take such actions. [5] Despite these attempts, Judge Bitar was seen in his office today, February 1st, continuing his investigative efforts and some reports say he said, “Instead of me appearing before him, he’ll be appearing before me.” [6]

Several Lebanese Members of Parliament condemn Oueidat’s actions and released a statement demanding immediate action against him. [7] Lebanese activists and diaspora demand the international community to impose financial and travel sanctions against those attempting to obstruct access to justice, to exert pressure on Lebanese authorities to ensure Judge Bitar’s safety and stop political interference, and request the UN Human Rights Council’s support in the investigation. [8] Hiyam Kaadan, mother of victim Ahmad Kaadan, says “He [Ouiedat] protects the culprits. He is a culprit just like them.” [9] Chady Doughan, brother of victim Mohammad Nour Doughan, says “Ghassan Oueidat, revise your conscience … We are dead. We are alive but we are dead … I buried my brother! … We want Tarek Bitar.” [10] Cecil Rukoz also questions, “What’s this? Is this justice or is this a stage for jokes, laughs, and games?” [11] In response to a victim’s relative, Prosecutor Oueidat said “They are not the first people to die, many others died in Lebanon over the years.” [12]

Sources and Further Reading:

[1] Al Jazeera. (2023, January 23). Lebanese judge probing 2020 Beirut port blast resumes inquiry. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/1/23/lebanese-judge-probing-2020-beirut-port-blast-resumes-inquiry; Bassam, L., Gebeily, M., & Azhari, T. (2023, January 23). Judge unexpectedly resumes frozen Beirut blast investigation. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/beirut-blast-investigator-resumes-work-after-more-than-year-lebanese-media-2023-01-23/ 

[2] Houssari, N. (2023, January 24). Tensions rise in Lebanon after judge investigating Beirut blast takes aim at top officials. Arab News. https://www.arabnews.com/node/2237946/amp; Megaphone News. (2023, January 24). Bitar's Summons Calendar. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CnzPtOlNrKV/

[3] France 24. (2023, January 24). Tarek Bitar, Lebanon's judge with a grudge. https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20230124-tarek-bitar-lebanon-s-judge-with-a-grudge 

[4] Fox, T. (2023, January 26). Lebanon judge at the centre of Beirut blast inquiry showdown. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/1/26/beirut-port-blast-judge-will-face-challenges-and-risks-lawyer

[5] Azhari, T., & Fincher, C. (2023, January 27). Lebanese MPs denounce top prosecutor's moves against judge probing port blast. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/lebanese-mps-denounce-top-prosecutors-moves-against-judge-probing-port-blast-2023-01-27/; Megaphone News. (2023, January 25). Ghassan Oueidat: The judge who sabotaged the port investigation. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/Cn2ETGttPFF/

[6] Fox, T. (2023, January 26); Megaphone News. (2023, February 1). Tarek Bitar At The Justice Palace. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CoHap8mobVl/

[7] Azhari, T., & Fincher, C. (2023, January 27).

[8] Meghterbin Mejtemiin (@uniteddiasporalb). (2023, January 30). Activists in Lebanon & the Diaspora Unite in Calling for Immediate International Sanctions Against Individuals Obstructing Justice. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CoFrAyKrhgH/

[9] Megaphone News. (2023, January 25). The testimony of Hiyam Kaadan from inside the Association for the Families of port explosion victims. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/Cn2FzkWN_cN/

[10] Megaphone News. (2023, January 25). The testimony of Chady Doughan from inside the Association for the Families of port explosion victims. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/Cn2GrdVtFrN/

[11] Megaphone News. (2023, January 25). The testimony of Cecil Roukoz from inside the Association for the Families of port explosion victims. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/Cn2JPpCN7Lh/

[12] Megaphone News. (2023, January 26). Judge Ghassan Oueidat responded to the families of the port victims. Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/Cn4SVxjohzo/