Human rights groups condemn removal of Lebanese judge investigating Beirut blast
A Lebanese court on Thursday removed the judge investigating Beirut's port blast, which killed over 200 people in August 2020, drawing condemnation from rights groups who have accused authorities of neglecting .
Judge Fadi Sawan had charged three ex-ministers and caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab with negligence over the massive blast, which was one of the largest accidental explosions in history.
Youssef Lahoud, a lawyer representing around 1,400 people affected by the explosion, told Reuters that the case would be transferred to a different judge.
The dismissal of the judge is the latest in a series of obstacles on the path to accountability for the Beirut port blast, which further exacerbated strains on a country struggling with its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Several politicians had criticised Sawan after the charges, saying he was selective and had overstepped his powers. On Wednesday the indicted former Public Works and Transportation Minister Youssef Fenianos declined to be questioned before Judge Sawan.
So far, no one has had to answer for the blast, and more deadly chemicals were found during clean-up efforts.
Human rights groups on Thursday condemned Sawan's removal.
Aya Majzoub, a Human Rights Watch researcher described it on Twitter as "a mockery of justice" and "an insult to the victims of the blast".
"More than six months later, we are back to square one," she added.
Human Rights Watch have previously criticized the Lebanese authorities for negligence in their investigation into the causes the explosion.
25 suspects have been arrested in connection with the blast, including the chief of the port and its customs director, but not a single politician.
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Lebanese lawyer and activist Nizar Saghieh said he needed to see the full court decision regarding Sawan's removal, but feared the worst.
"By refusing to be held accountable, the ministers and political class are drawing a red line in the investigation," he said, adding it was a "common occurrence in Lebanon that prevents any justice from being achieved".
Michael Wentler, a German chemical expert at Combi Lift involved in the clearing operations at the port, previously said that thousands of litres of dangerous substances had been stored in decaying containers for more than a decade.
He said Beirut had been “lucky” because containers filled with hazardous chemicals had been kept at a distance from one another.
Agencies contributed to this report.