Defense lawyer cautions Hariri tribunal against hosting "show trial"

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Thursday, June 19, 2014

A lawyer for one of five men accused over the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri on Thursday warned the court against hosting a “show trial” by rushing proceedings before the defense counsel was allowed adequate time to prepare.

Mohammed Aouini, chief defense lawyer for Hassan Merhi, complained that prosecutors in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) had nine years to gather evidence, while his team was only assembled earlier this year and has not yet received reports from its two appointed experts to analyze data.

“The trial chamber should shoulder its responsibility to take all the necessary measures to protect the rights of Mr. Merhi. The danger looming today is about the effectiveness of the accused’s right [to a proper defense], and is also about fair and just proceedings.”

“The chamber should also ensure this trial does not turn into a show trial, because justice and fairness are the two main cornerstones of any trial, and justice and fairness cannot be guaranteed without the effectiveness of the accused’s rights during the proceedings.”

The Hague-based STL is tasked with uncovering the killers behind a February 14, 2005 downtown Beirut blast that killed Hariri and 21 others.

The prosecution alleges that its five suspects had stalked Hariri for months before the assassination, prepared the bomb used in the explosion, and set up a patsy to claim responsibility for the crime to throw off investigators.

On Wednesday prosecutors argued that Merhi was the "chief architect" in a phase of the crime that involved framing a patsy.

Prosecutors said Merhi identified Ahmed Abu Adas, a worshipper at a Beirut mosque, as a scapegoat to the murder prior to the explosion, then prepared a false claim of responsibility in a video showing him reading from a letter.

Merhi was also responsible for delivering the video to the media, the prosecutors claimed.

But in his opening remarks Thursday, Aouini said there was no way to respond to these accusations given the little time they were allowed to prepare.

"In order to confront the serious accusations, the defense team must be ready for trial. This cannot happen unless the defense team can draw up a line of defense for the accused," he said.

"Despite all of its efforts the Merhi defense team is unable to present and develop a detailed line of defense as the trial starts today in a staggered manner," Aouini added.

The prosecution originally charged four suspects – Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi and Assad Sabra – each with two counts of terrorism and three counts of homicides in 2011. All are being tried in abstentia.

Merhi was charged last year with the same crimes but the trial began in January before his case was merged with that of the other four.

(Al-Akhbar)

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