BEIRUT: Defense lawyers for a Hezbollah suspect accused of playing a key role in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri warned that their client’s trial could turn into a farce if his rights are not respected.
“The trial chamber must ensure that this trial does not turn into a fictitious trial, or a kind of show trial,” Mohammed Aouini, defense counsel for Hassan Habib Merhi, said on the second day of hearings after the resumption of trial at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Aouini, who was only appointed to represent Merhi in late December, warned that the “danger looming now” was that Merhi’s rights might be usurped because his lawyers had not had adequate time to prepare their defense and investigations.
The STL is tasked with prosecuting those responsible for the Valentine’s Day 2005 bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others and plunged Lebanon into political turmoil.
The Hague-based court began the in absentia trial of four Hezbollah members indicted in connection with the attack in January.
But the U.N.-backed tribunal suspended the trial for four months in February after the case of Merhi, who was only indicted last summer, was joined to that of the other four suspects.
The suspension was intended to give his lawyers a chance to prepare for the case, but the team led by Aouini has repeatedly said they need more time to study the thousands of pages of documents and telecommunications data that prosecutors have assembled in the case.
“This trial is starting way too prematurely,” Aouini said. “The trial chamber must take all measures to protect his rights.”
Speaking before the trial judges, Aouini also criticized prosecutors for failing to provide a motive for why Merhi would take part in the Hariri assassination.
Defense lawyers have repeatedly said they intended to challenge prosecutors on the issue of motive. In the past, they said that Hariri enjoyed cordial relations with Hezbollah at the time of his killing and was considering a parliamentary alliance with the party, and so it would not make sense for its operatives to orchestrate his assassination.
Prosecutors alleged Wednesday that Merhi played a key role in plotting a false claim of responsibility after the Hariri assassination intended to mislead investigators.