Statue of Rafiq Hariri, Beirut. Steven Damron / Creative Commons.

Lebanon’s Political Confrontation Continues as Indictment Remains Sealed

Statue of Rafiq Hariri, Beirut. Steven Damron / Creative Commons.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon delivered its much anticipated indictment regarding the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and others to Lebanese justice officials yesterday, sealed. The controversy over how the indictment was crafted and whom it may allege played a role in the killing caused the fall of the government last week. Now that the indictment has been delivered and remains sealed, the confrontation will last at least several more weeks.

The key question now is whether other national governments or civil society and activist organizations will rally behind either the pro-Western parties led until last week by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri or behind the radical Hezbullah-led party that led the walk out of government as parties attempt to designate a new Prime Minister and create a new government.

In an attempt to reduce tension, Daniel A. Bellemare, the Prosecutor for the Tribunal released a video clarifying some points. Here’s the key quote addressing why the indictment was sealed and what happens next:

As frustrating as it may be, the content of the indictment must remain confidential for the time being. So, unfortunately, you will have to wait a little bit longer. According to the Rules of the Tribunal, I cannot reveal either the charges or the name of the person or persons referred to in the indictment. This continued confidentiality is essential as I cannot presume that the Pre-Trial Judge will confirm the indictment. If it is confirmed, the content of the document will be made public in due course and when so ordered by the Pre-Trial Judge. Many of your questions will be answered at that time. As the trial process unfolds, you will have the opportunity to satisfy yourselves as to the strength of the evidence that we have gathered.

In the meantime, any speculation about the contents of the indictment would be counter-productive as the Pre-Trial Judge may not agree with me. To assist him in his review, the Pre-Trial Judge may submit to the Appeals Chamber preliminary legal questions necessary to review and rule on the indictment. The Appeals Chamber may then order a public hearing, which will be limited to questions of law. It will not deal with any of the facts contained in the indictment, the identity of any of the persons or any of the charges contained in that document. This indictment is not only a first step on the road to ending impunity in Lebanon; it is also the first step of the judicial process.  Any person or persons named in the indictment are presumed innocent.  And even after the indictment is confirmed by the Pre-Trial Judge – if it is – the person or persons whose identity is contained in the document are still presumed innocent. This means that the Prosecution will have to prove before a trial court, and beyond a reasonable doubt – that they are guilty. If there is a reasonable doubt, the accused will be acquitted. Any accused has the right to defend himself vigorously against the allegations contained in an indictment. The Office of the Defence has been created to assist the accused and their counsel in ensuring that the best possible defence is offered.

For a more personal view on the fall of the government over this controversy, here’s a look at Lebanese reactions on Twitter.
Photo: Steven Damron