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Fadi Sawan: The man leading the Beirut explosion investigation | Lebanon News

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Beirut, Lebanon – Fadi Sawan was not the first choice to lead investigations into Lebanon’s single-most deadly explosion. Nor was he the second.

The 60-year-old military investigative judge was, in fact, the third name Caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najem proposed to a council of top judges to be approved for the powerful role of judicial investigator.

They finally accepted, thus empowering Sawan to shape the probe into the enormous explosion at Beirut’s port that killed at least 180 people, left about 30 missing and injured more than 6,000 on August 4. The case he puts together will eventually be transferred to the Judicial Council, the highest court in the country, to which Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet referred the blast investigation just hours before resigning last week.

The council’s decisions are not subject to appeal – and neither is the investigation that Sawan will put together. This makes his work all the more crucial.

But the process that led to Sawan’s selection and his management of a number of high-profile cases raise questions about whether he is the right man for the job.

The case he is investigating has implicated dozens of security, administrative and political officials who were aware of the presence of some 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port, which has been there for more than six years, but did nothing to remove it. 

Many of these officials are either directly or indirectly affiliated with major political parties that hold the reigns of power in Lebanon.

Sawan will have to show great independence and perseverance, especially given chronic political interference in Lebanon’s judiciary – a practice so pervasive state media made it a point to note Sawan “is known to visit neither politicians, nor even his fellow judges … he does not participate in social or political events and is known to not receive instructions”.

Third time’s a charm 

The process that led to Sawan’s selection is not encouraging.

Najem had first proposed Samer Younes, a judge who “is not only independent, but proved he is one of the very few judges ready to get into a battle for justice”, said Nizar Saghieh, a leading Lebanese legal expert and founder of NGO the Legal Agenda.

But the Higher Judicial Council (HJC) – a 10 judge panel appointed by the country’s ruling class – rejected Younes, without offering any explanation. Local media was awash with rumours that it was due to his political leanings. Younes responded in a statement listing prominent cases he had taken on for more than 10 years, some involving powerful politicians, in which, he says, “I stood, alone.”

He mentions the 2010 “White House Restaurant” case, where bodyguards of Anton Sehnaoui, the CEO of SGBL Bank and the brother of a soon-to-be-minister, exchanged fire with a businessman’s bodyguards.

Then-Investigative Judge Ghassan Oueidat declined to interrogate Sehnaoui, but Younes appealed his decision and insisted on Sehnaoui’s interrogation, embarking on a long judicial confrontation.

Ten years later, Oueidat is Lebanon’s top prosecutor and the deputy head of the HJC – the council that rejected Younes’s candidacy to lead investigations into the blast.

Najem then proposed Fadi Bitar, a judge who Saghieh says was similarly qualified, but was “made to bow out early”. Bitar released a short statement saying he had declined to take on the role, without providing reasons. Again, local media reports speculated political pressure was behind his refusal to take on the prominent position.

Finally, Najem proposed Sawan. The HJC accepted.

The HJC issued a statement saying speculation over the process behind Sawan’s appointment “does not correspond to reality”, but offered no alternative explanation, saying its deliberations were secret.

“Keeping public opinion and the media abreast of the course of the Beirut Port explosion issue is natural, but the council calls on everyone not to question the investigations that have taken place and are taking place, and to give the judiciary full confidence,” the statement said.

Najem did not respond to several requests for comment on the process that led to Sawan’s selection. Sawan could not be reached for comment.

“There’s no appeal in this case, so political authorities didn’t want to have their hands tied with someone independent who could implement a courageous decision,” Saghieh said. “That could explain this process with no transparency that eliminated two brave judges, and instead selected a man known to accept work within the lines.”

Those lines are especially important here: Oueidat, Lebanon’s top prosecutor, led investigations into the blast until the case was transferred to Sawan, and will continue to play a central role.

But there are concerns over the involvement of Oueidat himself in the case: He was informed of the presence of the highly explosive material months before disaster struck, and he allegedly ordered maintenance to the port hangar where the explosive material was stored. That maintenance, which included welding, is suspected of having lit the fire that eventually caused the blast.

Oueidat is also married to the sister of former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zaeiter, who was in office from February 2014 till December 2016 and was nominally in charge of overseeing the port.

Sawan, so far, has shown no initiative to work beyond the case transferred to him by Oueidat – which includes 19 detainees and charges against 25 people, none of whom is a minister or political official.

Instead, Sawan has slowly worked his way through the names already handed over to him, interrogating them one by one and issuing orders to keep them detained.

Political stances

The vast majority of Sawan’s work in his capacity as military investigative judge has been related to terrorism charges levelled against Syrians and Lebanese.

State media said he had issued “hundreds of indictments” against alleged members of the ISIL (ISIS) group, the al-Nusra Front and other armed groups throughout his career. Official reports show that many of these charges were issued as summary judgements against a dozen, or sometimes more than two-dozen people at a time.

A lawyer with detailed, direct knowledge of Sawan’s decisions at the court over many years said the judge dealt with people in a “brash, almost vicious manner if they are weak, poor or opposed to” the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The lawyer declined to be named because they continue to practice in a field that Sawan has influence over.

Sawan has a “clear political stance in his decisions. He would always write ‘the terrorist Free Syrian Army (FSA)’ in his decisions and prosecute people opposed to the regime even if they were not shown to be directly involved in fighting” the lawyer said. The FSA is a loose faction of Syrian armed groups that formed in 2011 to oppose al-Assad’s violent response to popular protests.

“Meanwhile, the judge in the office next door wouldn’t even file charges against people for belonging to the FSA, unless they committed serious crimes. That’s how big of a political difference there was,” the lawyer said. “It was collective punishment for opposing the regime.”

That aligns Sawan with the pro-Assad political forces in Lebanon, namely Hezbollah and its allies the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Amal Movement who hold a majority in Parliament and named Diab’s now-caretaker government.

The FPM was founded by President Michel Aoun, while House Speaker Nabih Berri is the head of Amal. Officials affiliated with both parties had knowledge of the presence of the highly explosive material at Beirut’s port, including Customs Chief Badri Daher, who was appointed by the FPM, is a staunch supporter of Aoun and visits him on a regular basis.

Pro-FPM pundits celebrated Sawan’s appointment. “Rest assured, his sword is the truth,” pro-FPM writer Charbel Khalil tweeted.

Releasing the colonel

Aside from the terrorism cases that were a regular affair in Lebanon, especially following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Sawan took on a number of more high-profile cases in the past year.

Two of them stand out for the involvement of senior security forces and high-level politics.

The first case is the killing of Lebanese protester Alaa Abou Fakher in November 2019 by 1st Adjutant Charbel Ajeil, who was driving his commanding officer, Colonel Nidal Daou.

Protesters had been blocking roads across the country at the time in an effort to force out Lebanon’s corrupt, entrenched political class. One of those men was Abou Fakher, who was standing in a road south of Beirut when a car transporting Ajeij and Daou tried to push through the roadblock.

Protesters tried to prevent the car from getting through, and Ajeij shot Abou Fakher at point-blank range, killing him in front of his wife and young son in harrowing scenes that were caught on camera.

It was a massive event. Protesters gathered across the country, bathing streets and squares in the amber glow of candlelight vigils, proclaiming him the first “martyr” of their revolution.

Daou was ordered to be arrested by the military court on charges of “involvement” in the murder. Luay Ghandour, a lawyer representing Abou Fakher’s family, said several witnesses had heard Daou say either “shoot” or “shoot him”, just before Ajeij fired the shots.

But Sawan ordered him released, pending investigation, just two weeks after the crime.

Abou Fakher’s family were infuriated and threatened protests. An appeal was filed and in late January, the military court annulled Sawan’s decision to release Daou, based on testimony by witnesses. Daou was arrested once again.

Then, on April 6, Sawan once again ordered Daou released, this time based on a request by Daou’s lawyers. He took the decision during a nationwide lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic, which Abou Fakher’s family said had been used to “smuggle suspicious decisions”, at a time when street-level pressure was no more possible. They also alleged intervention by politicians or security forces.

“Sawan is a competent judge but he’s very close to security forces. He let this colonel out even though he participated in a murder,” Ghandour said. “I don’t know how objective he will be when it comes to the involvement of security forces in the case of the port explosion.”

State media also noted Sawan’s unusually-intense support for security forces, saying he is “one of the few judges who issued indictments against anyone who fought against the Lebanese army”.

The Lebanese army and State Security knew about the presence of the highly explosive cache at Beirut’s port long before it exploded, and members of both forces have been arrested in the continuing investigations.

“Sawan’s role at the military court is quite literally to protect the military institution and soldiers,” said Diala Chehadeh, a Lebanese human rights lawyer who regularly defends cases at the military court. “There are questions of whether he can be objective here.”

Eshmun’s grave

In a separate case in the summer of 2019, Sawan was the military investigative judge presiding over investigations into a clash between supporters of rival Druze minority parties: the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) of Walid Joumblatt and the Lebanese Democratic Party (LDP) of Talal Arslan.

A minister affiliated with Arslan was driving through the mountain town of Qabrshmoun – which translates to “The Grave of Eshmun”, the Phoenician god of healing – when supporters of the PSP opened fire on his convoy.

Two of the minister’s bodyguards were killed and a number of others injured.

Arslan and his allies Hezbollah and the FPM turned the case into a national issue to exert pressure on their political rivals, including the PSP. They paralysed cabinet for more than a month amid Arslan’s demand that the case be transferred to the Judicial Council, which would give it added weight.

A lead military judge transferred the case to Sawan, and ordered him to interrogate those accused of opening fire. But Sawan received a call from then-Justice Minister Salim Jreissati, asking him to transfer the case to a judge close to the FPM, Marcel Bassil, according to three lawyers familiar with the matter, including Saghieh.

In doing so, he helped the FPM secure control over a case that they had a direct interest in politicising.

Jreissati did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s clear that he implemented the political order he got, even though it is his job to make decisions regarding the case and the justice minister has no role there,” Saghieh said.

“He lost his independence,” Saghieh said, noting the political pressures associated with the Beirut blast investigation would likely be much greater.

No time for placing bets

The Beirut explosion case that Sawan is now leading is unprecedented in the history of Lebanon. It directly concerns tens of thousands of people who were either injured, had their homes destroyed, lost people close to them and will be picking up the pieces of their lives for years to come.

Its scale has also made the explosion a national and international issue.

So far, the Lebanese public has expressed little confidence in the investigation, owing to a long history of impunity for crimes that have left Lebanon crisis-ridden, bankrupt and forlorn – a country bathed in “corruption, but with no one corrupt”, as the sarcastic local saying goes.

Local and international rights groups and the families of some victims have called for an international investigation, or at least an investigation empowered by international experts, saying it is the only way to achieve accountability given the sad state of Lebanon’s judiciary.

Najem, the justice minister, previously told Al Jazeera the blast case was a chance for Lebanon’s judiciary to show “they can do their jobs and win back the confidence of the people”.

But few survivors have shown a willingness to place bets on those odds – especially when it concerns the lives of their friends and family, their capital city and their country.

“From appointing high-level judges to making late-night phone calls in individual cases, the political class has undermined the independence of the judiciary at every possible opportunity – especially in cases involving official corruption or shortcomings,” said Nadim Houri, the director of the Arab Reform Initiative and a lawyer specialised in human rights.

“The net result has been a culture of total impunity for politicians and security officers.”

Follow Timour Azhari on Twitter: @TimourAzhari.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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Year of the Overcomer-Prophet Elvis Mbonye

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The eagerly awaited first fellowship of controversial Prophet Elvis Mbonye left viewers shocked as he declined to issue his now famous prophecies citing a refusal to settle for the new normal. In an on online service watched by thousands, the Prophet said him prophesying would “ be a concession to gathering online, rather than physically” further stating that it is not the will of God that church should meet online!

The Covid-19 SOPs given by the government and Ministry of Health have heavily impacted gatherings and as a result, ministries with large congregations have resorted to online services. The prophet however insists that this is a ploy to diminish the influence of the Kingdom of God.

He however proceeded to give the Prophetic Word of the year , saying “This is the year of the Overcomers” amidst cheers from those present. He also stated that this would not be a “gloomy” year, probably meaning that this would be a good year. Given that many of his prophecies have actually come to pass, should we pay more attention to him? We eagerly await the prophecies this year.

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Kabuleta blasts Media over “COFIT” reporting in new rant.

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Presidential hopeful Joseph Kiiza Kabuleta has expressed dissatisfaction with the media over what he says was”alarmist reporting” over the Covid-19 pandemic which he calls “COFIT” a term we believe is a wordplay between covid and profit, a view held by many that claims that the disease was exaggerated to maximize funding and corruption. Kabuleta has come to be known for his straight shooting style and admirable command of facts and policy, even being touted as the “smartest candidate” in the race.here is the full statement:

MEDIA AND THE COFIT ENTERPRISE

By Joseph Kabuleta

“Don’t look at where you fell, but where you slipped”
AFRICAN PROVERB

We know where the media fell. They fell when they were caught in the crossfire between opposition politicians and trigger-happy security hitmen; when they were unfairly targeted as they went about their noble duty of covering this explosive elective season. Sadly, some journalists are nursing wounds; others weren’t so lucky.
But it’s important for us to understand where they slipped.

If someone is sitting by the roadside sipping on his brew and he sees a gang of people sprinting past him, as if for their lives, it’s understandable if he impulsively joins without asking questions. But if after nine months he is still sprinting, and has still not asked any questions, then there’s something terribly wrong with him.

When we first went into lockdown in March, it was probably the best course of action because we didn’t know the full extent of the Cofit threat. But in the first 90 days, it was clear to all and sundry that it was never going to rank among Uganda’s top health challenges. And that’s not my opinion.

The Daily Monitor on July 15th quoted Dr Baterana Byarugaba, the Mulago Hospital Executive Director, describing the Cofit strain in the country as a mild form of flu which does not require hospital admission since it can be treated at home or in lower health facilities.
“l told Ugandans right from the beginning that the type of coronavirus we expect in Uganda is the mild one. It can be treated at health centre II, III, IV or the district hospital,” the top Medic said.

I read the story with glorious delight supposing that finally common sense, (or should I say science sense) would inform our decisions as a nation. But it’s difficult to know where science stops and politics starts. It’s become clear over the months that Cofit is not just a virus that causes respiratory problems, it’s a lot more than that; it’s a weapon in the hands of politicians that gives them power beyond their wildest dreams. In America, for instance, Democrat Congressman Jim Clyburn said Cofit is a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our (leftist) vision” while actress and activist Jane Fonda said that Cofit was “God’s gift to the left.”

Our media could have taken the side of poor Ugandans by showing the immense suffering and death from preventable sicknesses that resulted from the harsh Cofit measures; they could have highlighted the plight of businesses permanently closed and workers rendered redundant and sent back to villages. They could have wondered why truck drivers were testing negative in Kenya and positive in Uganda, or wondered why Cofit deaths only started after Prophet Museveni showed us a macabre lineup of coffins in his address, or why every celebrity who dies since then is ruled as Cofit (no autopsy required)

They could have told us that according to Worldometer, Cofit has a 0.28% mortality rate (or a 99.72 survival rate) and that it doesn’t rank anywhere in the Top 10 of Uganda’s health challenges; they could have told us that a child dies of malaria every two minutes (and Uganda accounts for 3% of the world’s malaria fatalities), which means that more Ugandans die from mosquitoes in ten days than Cofit has (allegedly) killed in the nine months it’s been on our lips.

Ugandans (especially of my age) have lived through real pandemics. As a young man growing up in the early 90s, nobody had to remind me that AIDS was real. Goodness me, I knew it was! And I didn’t need police to force me to wear protection, I knew the consequences. The fact that we are constantly being reminded that ‘Cofit is real’ tells a story of its own.

The media could have asked why Uganda, with one of the lowest Cofit cases or deaths, still holds on to a 9:00pm curfew when Kenya moved to 11:00pm in September, as did South Africa and several countries. The media could have told us that Malawi, Burundi, Tanzania and, recently, Ghana all held successful elections with full blown campaigns in 2020, and we aren’t hearing people dropping dead from Cofit in any of those countries. May be they should have tried to find out if people are dropping dead in Tanzania which altogether ignored all Cofit measures and went on to acquire middle-income status while Ugandans were still in lockdown.

They could have told us about the asymptomatic Cofit patients who were filmed dancing the night away in hospital wards, or of people suffering from other diseases who dare not go to hospital because they fear to be given a fake Cofit label and held for two weeks against their will.

The media could have told us that Cofit deaths across the world have been grossly inflated. Minnesota lawmakers say Cofit deaths could have been inflated by 40% after examining death certificates (according to The Washington Examiner) while Fox News reported that in Colorado 45% of Cofit corpses “were also found to have bullet wounds”.

They could have told us that 22 European countries, all of which had tens of thousands of Cofit deaths, opened their schools in the fall, and there has not been any reported spikes in cases as a result. They could have told us that more people have been killed by security men enforcing Cofit measures than by the virus itself.

Well, they could have…but they didn’t. And that’s where they slipped.

Instead they chose to go down the path of alarmist reporting and in so doing became, inadvertently or otherwise, enablers of Uganda’s trillion-shilling Cofit enterprise. Like Squealer in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the media used flowery language to drum up fear by keeping people’s eyes transfixed on swelling numbers while the thieves carried their loot and stashed it away, and loan money was distributed among family members or used in regime prolongation.

The recent joint television news bulletin, and the adverts that followed, were the peak of hysterical reporting. “Zuukuka Tusaanawo” (wake up, we are perishing) screamed an advert featuring top media personalities. What a load of……(fill in appropriate word).

Remember, all the tyranny we have witnessed in this season has been done in the name of Cofit, and such sensationalist reporting justifies it; it gives dictators like Museveni the perfect pseudo-moralistic cover to unleash their most despotic fantasies while actually pretending that it’s for the good of the people. Unfortunately, the terror has now spread to the very media people whose hyperbole enabled it in the first place. There is such a thing as the law of cause and consequence, after all.

Instead of the media walking out of pressers and threatening to boycott government functions, let them threaten to stop all Cofit reporting. Museveni himself would come running with chocolate in hand.

If the president extended curfew by just two hours, for instance, he will have put as many as 200,000 Ugandans back to work especially in the hotel, restaurant and entertainment industries; but he doesn’t care, and sadly neither do many middleclass Ugandans who suppose that it’s their moral obligation as responsible citizens of the Global Village to fret over Cofit just because their ‘fellow citizens’ in Europe and America are doing so. Of course they can afford to do that because their corporate jobs have, for the most part, insulated them from the devastation of the government-instituted Cofit measures. They can enjoy working at home, beer in hand, as they listen to CNN and BBC and still expect the full complement of their salaries at the month end, and that makes them feel every bit like ‘their brothers’ overseas.

Such aspirational conformists are more likely to be offended by my stance on Cofit because they haven’t traversed crook and creek of this country and seen the damage reigned on this fragile society; not by the virus, but by the measures supposedly instituted to mitigate it.

You see, perhaps the most enduring damage this regime has done to our society is creating a three-part hierarchy of class and needs. At the zenith are a handful of connected ‘1986 generation’ and their families who feel entitled to all power and wealth. Beneath is a small (and shrinking) middleclass, and at the bottom of the pyramid is a mass of peasants. Every society, to various degrees, is ordered in the same fashion, but what makes Uganda unique is that the megalomaniacs at the top don’t give a nickel about the plight of the middleclass and the middleclass in turn don’t care a bit about the quandary of the peasant. The charlatans at the top will impose punitive taxes on the middleclass, then dip into NSSF coffers at a whim to share out their savings, and no one can stop them.

And the middleclass Ugandan, armed with his medical insurance, and safe in the knowledge that his wife is unlikely to die in child birth (20 Ugandans do EVERY DAY), and his children are very unlikely to die of malaria (20 do EVERY DAY), or from malnutrition (thousands do every year), will go around trumpeting Cofit because it’s more relevant to his status than malnutrition or malaria.

I could just as easily go down that path. I could also close my eyes to mothers failing to get breast milk because they can only afford half a meal a day (black tea with a piece of cassava), and the malnourished babies that emerge as a result; I could close my eyes to the teenage girls that were given out in marriage because schools closed, or those given out to meet family needs; I could ignore the fact that our president is opening 5-star markets in cities which have 1-star referral hospitals; I could also choose to look the other way and enjoy my middleclass lifestyle, but as an aspiring leader, I cannot.

As a leader, my aspiration is to remove the privileged/entitled class, to expand the middleclass (and their income), and to shrink the peasantry; but mostly to blur the lines that separate each category.
It doesn’t bode well for our country if the average Corporate Ugandan knows more about racism in America than about extreme poverty in Teso or Busoga because that disqualifies him/her from the solution to those local problems.

And finally, I have come to the realization that the biggest pandemic afflicting our country is poverty and the virus that causes it is called M7-1986. Vaccination against it is January 14

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Muntu Blocked in Kamwenge

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Alliance for National Transformation presidential candidate Gen. Mugisha Muntu has been blocked from campaigning in Kamwenge according to a statement he released earlier today.Below is the full statement:

STATEMENT
Today in Kamwenge, as we have done since the start of the campaign season, we headed out to speak with the people. We had earlier in the week agreed on the venue with security agencies. No one had anticipated that it would rain as much as it did, making it impossible for us or the people to access.

After identifying an alternative place only 100m away from the original venue, negotiating with the owner and communicating the same to the public, we headed to the second venue only to be stopped by police.

Our policy has always been to do all we can to be reasonable, even in the face of unreasonable action on the part of the state. We engaged the police leadership in a civilized, respectable manner well knowing that they intended to not only frustrate us, but cause us to act in ways that would give them an excuse to cause chaos. This was on top of their intimidating the radio we had booked and duly paid to appear on.

While we are confident that we are on the right side of both the law and reason, we have chosen not to endanger the lives of our supporters or the general public by escalating the situation. We will do everything humanly possible to avoid a single life being lost or blood being shed on account of our campaign.

And yet this truth remains: the regime’s days are numbered.

ChangeYouCanTrust

CountryBeforeSelf

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