BEIRUT: “I don’t know what to say anymore,” Layla Yaacoub says, her voice breaking. “I just want the truth for my daughter.”
Wiping away tears with a shaking hand, she shuffles along a row of chairs to let others take their turn to speak as part of a news conference Friday at the headquarters of anti-gender-based violence group KAFA.
Yaacoub, the mother of the late Roula Yaacoub, is convinced her 31-year-old daughter was beaten to death - and she is not alone.
Despite the release last week of a 13-page report that cleared Roula Yaacoub’s husband, Karam al-Bazzi, of any role in her death, KAFA says the fight is far from over.
“This is an issue of justice,” says Zoya Rouhana, KAFA’s director. “This case has not been given the special attention it should have been given. There has been some sort of conspiracy, which has led to this conclusion.”
Roula Yaacoub was found comatose at her home in Halba, Akkar, last July, and later died upon arrival at the local hospital. Some of Yaacoub’s relatives and neighbors have maintained that Bazzi beat his wife and their five daughters on a regular basis, and have been campaigning since her death to have him charged with murder.
But the medical examinations and subsequent reports have so far not supported that case.
The Higher Judicial Council Friday defended last week’s report, which was written by an investigative judge, saying: “There was no sufficient evidence to believe that the defendant caused the death of his wife, Roula Yaacoub, by beating her or [committing] any other form of deliberate violence.”
The council said three autopsy reports, including one by a committee of doctors from the Beirut Order of Physicians, did not find any medical evidence indicating that the cause of death was a blow to the head as alleged by Yaacoub’s relatives. The forensic doctors reported that she died of an aneurysm, a swollen artery.
But Rouhana contests this narrative, suggesting the doctors were not united in their verdict.
“Committees formed by the syndicate of doctors in Beirut and Tripoli said they could not confirm what the cause of bleeding was,” she tells The Daily Star. “Some of them said there was not a sufficient medical examination to prove that she died of natural causes, a birth defect, as they are saying now ... some of the doctors said the bleeding could easily have been caused by a blow.”
Bruises discovered on the body, which would appear to support the claim she had been beaten before, were not taken into account in the judge’s final report, Rouhana says.
Yet they are alluded to in the Higher Judicial Council’s statement Friday, which says the second team of forensic doctors concluded, “bruises on the body were superficial and could not have been the cause of death.”
The report also relies heavily on testimony from two of Yaacoub and Bazzi’s five daughters, who said their father “did not beat their mother on that day,” according to the council’s statement.
But Rouhana points out that the daughters have been staying with Bazzi’s family since their mother’s death, “where they have been subject to psychological and other pressures to the benefit of the accused,” she said in a statement at the news conference.
A team of nine lawyers, headed by Rimon Yaaccoub, a relative of Roula, are now pushing to have an appeals court reopen the probe.
One of those lawyers, Marie-Rose Zalzal, is adamant that the Yaacoub family will see justice.
“Her parents should know what happened, and so should the public,” she says, putting an arm around a sobbing Layla Yaacoub.
“We also need the affirmation that no one should be able to escape justice; everyone should be punished according to what they did.”