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Qortbawi: Judiciary asked to expand sheikh probe

Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi speaks during a press conference at the ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, March 26, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi clarified Thursday a reported Cabinet recommendation to expand the probe into the killing of a prominent anti-Assad sheikh, saying he had merely informed the Cabinet of a request by the general prosecutor to do so.

After a Cabinet session last week, various media outlets reported that the government was expanding the investigation into the May killing of Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Wahed, but Qortbawi said that neither he nor the Cabinet has the power to make such a decision.

Several days after the session, three Army officers and eight soldiers were rearrested after being released on bail in connection with the case.

Qortbawi said that Military Prosecutor Saqr Saqr demanded a more expansive investigation in line with a request by General Prosecutor Saeed Mirza.

“What happened during the Cabinet session is that ... [I] informed the Cabinet of the general prosecutor’s request,” Qortbawi said.

Qortbawi’s remarks came during a meeting of security and judicial figures in the office of the head of the Higher Judicial Council at the Justice Palace.

Attending was Information Minister Walid Daouk, acting head of the council, Public Prosecutor Saeed Mirza, members of the council, reporters and representatives from the Press Federation.

Qortbawi said the Higher Judicial Council was considering opening a media office, which would be assisted by members of the media.

He said this office would help clarify legal and judicial issues to prevent ambiguity – which he said characterized aspects of the Abdel-Wahed case – and give media outlets the tools to report the truth “objectively.”

Qortbawi said that the aim of Thursday’s meeting was to discuss relations between the media and the judiciary.

“This meeting will not be the last, but will be followed by others with representatives of audiovisual media outlets under the patronage of Information Minister [Walid Daouk], so that the relationship between judiciary and people through media will be a proper one.”

The rearrest sparked protests by supporters of Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement who took to the streets and blocked roads Monday and Tuesday. Qortbawi refused to comment on the repercussions of the rearrest. – The Daily Star

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 20, 2012, on page 3.

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