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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

CSO Coalitions Stress the Importance of an Independent Judiciary and its Role in Ensuring Accountability

Source SMEX
Wednesday , 27 October 2021

The Freedom of Opinion and Expression Coalition in Lebanon and the Coalition for an Independent Lebanese Judiciary, with the participation of several independent civil society groups, held a press conference in Spears Street, Beirut, to “stress the importance of an independent judiciary and its role in ensuring accountability, promoting the rule of law and defending human rights.”


Journalist Ilda Ghoussain from the Alternative Press Syndicate delivered a statement in which she said: “Since the Beirut Port Explosion on August 4, 2020, the worst crime witnessed since the Civil War, the judicial investigation has been faced with endless obstacles. Some journalists, media figures and politicians even sought to undermine the truth and establish a culture of impunity under different pretexts. The rule of law and justice cannot be achieved without an independent judiciary and an independent media that reports professionally on judicial proceedings and delivers accurate information to the public, far from the influence of political agendas, in order to reinforce trust in the judiciary.”


Jad Shahrour from the Samir Kassir Foundation stressed the following: “Only freedoms can guarantee that each citizen is able to voice their own concerns and proclaim their rights. We reject the equation of ‘stability versus freedom.’ Stability can only be achieved through freedom.”


Attorney Ghida Frangieh from the Coalition for an Independent Lebanese Judiciary stated that: “Ever since Judge Tarek al-Bitar, the lead investigator heading the probe into the Beirut Port explosion, requested that the immunity of Members of Parliament and heads of security agencies be waived and insisted on his power to prosecute former ministers, we have witnessed a systematic campaign that has gradually been intensified on several fronts. Bitar’s independence has been put into question, and he has been accused of having suspicious connections. It has even been suggested that, should he remain in his position, he would plunge the country into a civil war.”


Frangieh condemned the “various forms of violence practiced against the judicial investigator and the investigation itself, as well as the stirring up of sectarian tensions and casting the victims in a sectarian light to score political gains.” She also denounced “the continuous attempts by former ministers to avoid undergoing investigation,” adding that “the waiving of immunity is a social necessity to break the cycle of impunity, subject public servants to the law and enable the judiciary to perform its functions independently and to hold perpetrators accountable, not only in the Port Explosion crime, but also in the Tleil and Tayyouneh crimes and in relation to the economic collapse and corruption.” She also stressed that “the independence of the judiciary ensures the sovereignty of the State.”


Frangieh called upon “all social and democratic forces to unite to ensure that justice is served for the victims and for society in the Port Explosion crime.” She also called for “large-scale social solidarity with the judicial investigator to protect the investigation” and urged “all political parties opposed to the investigation to prioritize public interest over their own, as well as to resort to legal channels as an exclusive method to express their objections, without any transgression or abuse.”


Frangieh addressed the “president and consultants of the Criminal Court of Cassation chambre who will look into the request to remove Judge Bitar from the investigation, asking them to confront this defiance of and transgression on the judiciary and the law, as well as to prevent the former ministers from evading justice.”


Tony Mikhael from the Maharat Foundation delivered a statement on behalf of the Freedom of Opinion and Expression Coalition in Lebanon in which he stressed the “crucial role of media outlets in supporting the path towards justice in any democratic society and their duty to act as a force of positive change.”


Mikhael stated that “uncovering the truth in the Port Explosion case has become a public opinion issue. Positive steps have been taken by the judicial investigator towards achieving justice, confirming the independence of the judiciary and preventing impunity. Public opinion and the families of victims not only rely on the judiciary to bring them justice; they also rely on the media to accompany them on the path towards uncovering the truth and achieving justice.”


Mikhael also said that “we, as organizations defending the freedom of speech and the media, commend the work and efforts of journalists, media outlets and independent platforms that are covering this case with integrity. We applaud these media outlets for supporting the investigation; they are taking a last stand to ensure the independence of the judiciary, break the cycle of impunity and defend the freedom of expression. The media is called upon to assume this historic role at this critical juncture. We must choose to either be the voice of justice or that of the oppressor.”


Rima Zahed delivered the statement of the Committee of the Families of Victims of the Beirut Port Explosion, stating that “following this catastrophe, and after all the suffering that we have endured as families of the martyrs of the Beirut Port explosion, we have tended our wounds and put our faith in the judiciary to hold the perpetrators accountable and bring justice to the victims’ bereaved parents and orphaned children. We resorted to the media and to freedom of expression to safeguard what remains of this country, whose sovereignty has been eroded by political interference in the judiciary and the investigation to keep the truth hidden. The judiciary, through its independence and its commitment to achieving justice, is our only hope. It is our belief that if the perpetrators are not held accountable today, nothing will remain of our country tomorrow.”


Zahed also called upon the Minister of Interior to “perform his duty towards us and abide by due process in the Port Explosion case by having the Judicial Police summon the accused.”

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