BEIRUT: Special Tribunal for Lebanon pretrial judge Daniel Fransen Thursday officially postponed the trial’s start date, but has yet to set a new tentative date for its commencement.
The trial of four Hezbollah members who stand accused of killing former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005, was provisionally scheduled to begin on March 25, but following a Jan. 23 motion filed by the defense requesting more time Fransen reviewed the start date and agreed to delay it.
The judge has given the prosecution, defense and victims’ representatives until March 8 to submit details of their preparedness for trial. The judge will set a new date after he has reviewed their submissions.
Among the defense’s reasons for requesting the postponement were the prosecution’s failure to disclose all relevant documents and the volume and disorganization of the evidence that was received.
Claiming that the difficulties could not have been foreseen when he set the provisional trial date in July 2012, the pretrial judge found that the prosecution had not handed over all relevant material to the defense and that the defense had been unable to access some material disclosed by the prosecution due to technical problems.
In reaching his decision, Fransen also took note of the ongoing cooperation requests made by the defense to the Lebanese authorities, the release stated.
In pretrial briefs filed to the STL in early January, defense attorneys lambasted the Lebanese authorities for their lack of cooperation, saying the situation left them without means to build a defense, especially in the absence of contact with the accused.
Mustafa Baddredine, Assad Sabra, Hussein Oneissi and Salim Ayyash, the four indicted men, remain at large. They will be tried in absentia unless they come forward or are apprehended before the trial begins.
While Fransen deemed the defense’s request to delay the trial date justifiable and necessary to uphold the right of the accused to a fair trial, he also emphasized that all parties must respect set deadlines.