Activists and relatives of victims of the deadly explosion at the port of Beirut gathered on Saturday January 14 in front of a police station in the capital to denounce the arrest of an emblematic figure of their movement. William Noun, whose firefighter brother was killed in the gigantic explosion on August 4, 2020, “was arrested on Friday evening for remarksheld during a TV show the day before.
A stalled investigation
The young man is one of the leading figures of the collective of victims of the explosion, which calls for the continuation of the investigation into the tragedy, suspended for more than a year due to political pressure. The arrest of William Noun provoked protest movements on Friday evening, his relatives, families of victims and activists cutting roads.
Known for his outspokenness, the young man had threatened to “blow up the courthouseduring the broadcast on Thursday to protest against the government’s attempt to appoint a deputy judge to the investigator Tarek Bitar to bypass him. The next day, relatives of victims threw stones at the courthouse in Beirut, breaking windows in protest.
Judge Bitar’s work has been blocked by a series of lawsuits against him and by a campaign led by Hezbollah, the dominant force in Lebanon, which accuses the judge of bias. “This is an attempt at intimidation but it won’t work. It’s a political process, not a legal one.“, denounced on a local channel the lawyer of William Noun, Ralph Tannous. “If only they applied with as much vigor the arrest warrants issued by the investigating judge in the investigation of the crime of the port“, lamented, in a statement to AFP, the lawyer and deputy of the challenge Melhem Khalaf.
The explosion which killed more than 200 people and devastated entire districts of the capital was triggered in a warehouse housing hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored without precautions and was attributed by a large part of the population to the ruling class corruption and neglect.
The judge had tried to bring charges against an ex-prime minister and four former ministers but was forced to suspend the investigation due to political pressure. The Lebanese authorities refused an international investigation, demanded in particular by the relatives of the victims and organizations for the defense of human rights.