BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said Friday that Cabinet’s decision to abolish wanted lists – made up of individuals named by informants – does not deprive security apparatuses of the power to draw new lists in closer coordination with the judicial authorities.
“Obviously, there was a misinterpretation of the decision, which scraps existing lists, but does not eliminate the prerogative,” Machnouk told a news conference. “The decision restores the judicial authorities’ rights to perform their role in this regard.”
The Cabinet decision to abolish the current lists was largely aimed at easing the grievances of Sunnis following a spate of arrests in the security clampdown on Tripoli.
“The prosecution will take legal action to purge the lists from names of individuals who should not be there and retain the names of those who have warrants,” Machnouk said.
An adviser to the justice minister had earlier explained to The Daily Star that while the names currently on the list were being removed, the procedure to gather them remained in force.
“The Cabinet decision scraps lists made until July 24, 2014, it does not abolish the procedure, which remains in force,” said Judge Mohammad Saab, adviser to the Minister of Justice.
“It basically eliminates the files of 1,000 individuals rounded up in Tripoli’s security plan, and whose arrests under this procedure have fueled grievances, jeopardizing the city’s stability and security, recovered after months of sectarian fighting,” Saab said.
He added that the Cabinet decision also stipulated a review of the mechanism to add to the wanted lists, to give the judiciary an upper hand and greater control over the arrests. “The aim is to draw a new mechanism to regulate the procedure, to rely more on credible information and judicial measures, and at the same time reduce the risk of arbitrary arrests,” Saab said.
Asked how the Cabinet decision would translate on the ground, Saab said he expected a large majority of those on the lists to be released after being found innocent, while only those with solid evidence of against them would be retained by judicial order.
Removing these names from the wanted lists meets a key demand of protesters angry about a crackdown authorities launched in Tripoli in April to restore law and order following several rounds of sectarian fighting over the crisis in Syria. Security agencies apprehended hundreds of suspects based on the controversial lists, with only a few arrests based on judiciary warrants.
The move is expected to defuse tension in Lebanon’s second-largest city, where protestors over the past few months have accused security agencies of conducting arbitrary detentions that target the Sunni community. This, they say, is in direct contrast to security forces’ policy toward Hezbollah, which has being playing a military role in Syria alongside Assad’s forces.
The lists first emerged during Syria’s tutelage over Lebanon, when security agencies would collect information about individuals via informants. The lists primarily targeted suspected Israeli collaborators and spies, as well as opponents of the Syrian government.
“This procedure, which was introduced under Syrian tutelage back in 1990, was meant to muzzle anti-Syria rhetoric in Lebanon and was used as a blackmailing tool against senior government employees and officials,” security sources told The Daily Star earlier.
“It is a major step toward restoring legitimate judicial control over arrests, which were previously done arbitrarily under the cover of national security,” the source added.
The move was strongly applauded by Future Movement officials as a way breaking free from the remnants of Syrian tutelage over Lebanon.
“The decision to cancel the wanted lists is a great achievement which means the Lebanese can now express their minds freely and in all transparency,” said the Future Movement’s Ahmad Hariri.
Machnouk earlier said the move erased the last trace of Syria’s tutelage over Lebanon, “propagating a feeling of public relief,” because it removed injustice done to Lebanese youth who were victimized under Syria’s security control.