Lebanon: The authorities should guarantee independence for the investigation on the case of two Sunni clerics killed by the army
On the morning of 20 May 2012, Ahmad Abdulwahed and Mohammad Al Mereb, both residents of Al-Bireh set out with their driver for Halba, the capital district of Akkar, to attend a rally organized by the Future Movement (political opposition movement led by Saad Hariri) for the fourth commemoration of the events that took place on 7 May 2008. According to their driver, who escaped, they notified the local security forces of the route that they were going to be taking just as they had announced their movement to and from various army checkpoints along the route. At around 11:30, they arrived at the Air Force military checkpoint at the entrance to the Kwaikhat village, near Tell Abbas. The soldiers gestured for the chauffeur to continue on, but then suddenly, one of the soldiers ordered them to stop the car and get out of it. The chauffeur exited first, and just as he was about to start talking with the soldiers, a number of the soldiers opened fire on the religious leader and his companion, killing them instantly.
In a climate of internal political tensions, exacerbated by the situation in Syria, the violent death of the Sunni religious leader supporting the Syrian opposition fueled the conflict between the different Lebanese factions, especially as the army is commonly seen as sympathetic towards the Syrian regime.
Weighing the gravity of these executions, and the particularly large impact that they had on public opinion, the responsible military officials rushed to publicly declare that a committee, established specifically for this purpose, would start an investigation immediately. This attempt at appeasement was not able to prevent armed clashes, which broke out after the event, leaving at least three dead in Beirut.
Mr. Saqr Saqr, Prosecutor from the Military Court of Beirut, was appointed at the opening of the investigation and has since ordered for the arrest of 22 air force personnel at the scene of the shooting, including 3 officers. As the investigation continued, it was turned over to the first military investigating judge, Mr. Riad Abu Ghida. On 5 July, most of the soldiers who were arrested, including the 3 officers, were released. This created new and violent protests in the country after, which all of the soldiers who had been released were again arrested and detained.
"In the case of the suspicious death of Ahmad Al Abdulwahed and Mohammad Mereb, the attitude of the military justice and the Lebanese authorities seems to reflect more a desire to appease public opinion and provide a political response to a clearly judicial case rather than to conduct an effective and impartial investigation into their deaths," said Rachid Mesli, director of Alkarama's Legal Department. He also called on the authorities to "carry out fully independent and impartial investigations without any political consideration."