Beirut, Lebanon – Years after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated, an outsized billboard was put up at a main Beirut intersection. It bore Hariri’s smiling image, contrasted against a black background, and therefore the words “time for justice” in large, white letters.
A ticker above the billboard’s top right corner counted up the times to justice. By last year, it stopped working. Then, at some point during the winter that nobody within the area seems to recollect , the billboard itself disappeared.
On Tuesday, the decision within the trial of 4 individuals accused of Hariri’s assassination will finally be handed down by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) – a world court based near The Hague , within the Netherlands – quite 15 years after he was killed during a massive car bombing on Valentine Day , 2005, along side 21 others.
Four members of Iran-backed militia and party Hezbollah stand accused of organising and completing the attack, though Hezbollah itself isn’t formally accused.
At the time, large swaths of Lebanon’s population laid final blame for the assassination on Syria, and massive protests depart a sequence of events that led Syrian forces to withdraw from Lebanon after some 40 years within the country.
Since its inception in 2007, the STL has been demonised by the pro-Syria camp in Lebanon, chiefly Hezbollah, who have said it’s a conspiracy against them. Others see it because the only thanks to achieve justice during a country with a weak, politically exposed judiciary.
But Lebanon features a different set of problems today than it did 15 years ago. the decision are going to be announced to nation free-falling into an endless downward spiral of economic collapse, political crisis, coronavirus outbreak, and an explosion that killed quite 170 people and injured 6,000, dwarfing the attack that killed the previous prime minister.
There are some parallels: Many, including local and international organizations and therefore the families of some victims, have involved a world investigation into the blast, citing their lack of trust in Lebanese authorities.
The pro-Syria camp, represented by President Michel Aoun and Hezbollah, have rejected these calls, saying they need no confidence in international justice.
In the run-up to the decision , Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his brother Baha, two of Rafik’s sons, have urged supporters to exercise restraint. Still, it’ll undoubtedly increase simmering tensions and rage against the strongest political forces within the country – Hezbollah and its allies.
“The verdict will add fuel to rising anti-Hezbollah sentiment in Lebanon,” Hilal Khashan, a veteran professor of politics at the American University of Beirut, told Al Jazeera. “No one believes for a second that four unruly members of this highly disciplined group administered this attack on their own accord.”
Hariri’s assassination was internationalised from the start , due to the size of the attack and Hariri’s larger-than-Lebanon ties to world leaders including Jacques Chirac, the French president at the time.
A UN investigation began just weeks after the explosion, before the STL formally took over in 2009.
On trial are Salim Ayyash, accused of overseeing preparations for the attack, also as Hussein Oneissi, Assad Sabra, and Hassan Merhi. None of the defendants was ever located, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah proclaimed they never would be, not even in “300 years”.
The prosecution’s case focuses heavily on a network of mobile phones that followed Hariri around within the months before his assassination, before most went dark after it had been administered . The defence has argued there are gaps within the evidence and it’s circumstantial at the best .
The UN investigation first focused on Syrian involvement, and 4 top generals were detained for four years until the STL ordered their release in 2009 saying that they had been arbitrarily detained.
Investigations then turned to specialise in the Hezbollah members.
Question of legitimacy
MP Jamil Sayyed, a former head of general security who was one among the generals arbitrarily detained for four years, told Al Jazeera the investigation into Hariri’s assassination was a “dirty political game” from the start .
“The goal even before the investigation started was to point out that Syria and its allies killed Hariri, then they searched for the evidence to support those claims, instead of the legal procedure for investigation which gets to conclusions through facts and evidence and true witnesses,” he said.
But Peter Haynes, the lead personal representative for the victims within the case, told Al Jazeera the trial “identified plainly criminal behaviour within the same way many international investigations do, and that i don’t think it’s in any way illegitimate”.