Saturday, January 28

Tareq Bitar, the Christian judge who exasperates Lebanon’s radical Shiites


Beirut

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Weaving networks around various officials despite pressure and threats, Judge Tareq Bitar, in charge of the investigation into the explosion in the port of Beirut, has become for a part of the Lebanese a figure in the struggle against a detested political class. But this low-key 47-year-old magistrate earned the dislike of the mighty armed Shiite movement Hezbollah and his supporters, who accuse him of politicizing the investigation and demand his replacement.

A demonstration organized on Thursday in Beirut by Hezbollah and the Amal movement, its ally, to demand the departure of the judge, turned the drama, as a shooting caused at least 6 deaths. Protesters burned portraits of the magistrate.

But on social networks, messages of support for the judge abound, especially since he was threatened according to leaks in the press by a Hezbollah official, in a country with a history marked by political assassinations.

The judge has been subjected to violent verbal attacks since he issued a arrest warrant against a deputy and former minister of Amal, an ally of Hezbollah. With his reputation as an incorruptible judge and his willingness to investigate the barons of the political cartel in power for decades, he embodies for many the symbol of independent justice, one of the last pillars of Lebanon on the verge of collapse. “He mixes conscience with audacity, essential qualities for a judge,” says Youssef Lahoud, one of the lawyers for the families of the Beirut port blast victims who caused at least 214 deaths on August 4, 2020 and more than 6,500 injured.

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For Lahoud, the judge “enjoys the trust” of the families of the victims of the drama, caused by the storage without precautionary measures of large quantities of ammonium nitrate, but also of those close to detainees. Accused of criminal negligence, the Lebanese authorities are accused of sabotaging the local investigation to avoid accusations. The judge annoys the political class, accustomed to having community loyalties to achieve their ends.

“There is no known political affiliation”, when many magistrates say they belong to the large political parties that represent their religious communities, says a close friend of the judge who requested anonymity. “That is the problem of politicians with Judge Bitar: they have no means to pressure him,” he adds.

The judge speaks little to the press. But the politicians of all the tendencies that he processes and tries to interrogate in the framework of the investigation accuse him of not hiding from his interlocutors his conviction that it is time to change the political class.

Over the years, this Christian judge forged himself a reputation as an upright magistrate. and incorruptible, according to their own detractors. Austere and not very smiling, he does not accept any invitation to dinner, avoids receptions and all social occasions for fear of being accused of being complacent, according to him. “Their audacity makes them uncomfortable. It is an unprecedented phenomenon in the Palace of Justice.”

Born in 1974 in the town of Aydamoun, in northern Lebanon, he lives in a northern suburb of Beirut with his pharmacist wife and their two children, now guarded by the military.

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The judge in 2020 sentenced two private hospitals and two doctors to pay heavy fines to the family of this girl victim of a medical error, who had to amputate her arms and legs, earning the animosity of the medical body.

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