BEIRUT: Lebanon’s General Prosecutor Hatem Madi surprised many Monday by requesting that MP Butros Harb be stripped of his parliamentary immunity after he was accused of insulting President Michel Sleiman and the judiciary in recent remarks. Harb, who will respond to the accusations in a news conference at his house Tuesday, described the request as “funny.”
“I have nothing to say other than what is happening is funny,” Harb told The Daily Star.
Judicial sources told The Daily Star that General Prosecutor Hatem Madi sent a memo to Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi requesting the lifting of Harb’s immunity in a bid to prosecute him for offending the president as well as the judiciary.
The March 14 lawmaker said the judge’s request was linked to comments he made after Madi charged Mahmoud Hayek, a member of Hezbollah, last week with the July 2012 attempt on the politician’s life.
After Hayek was charged, Harb said that Hezbollah had put pressure on both political and judicial officials to prevent the handover of Hayek, who remains at large. He also alleged Hezbollah had tried to negotiate a deal with the judiciary, where Hayek would give his testimony and then be released.
Madi said in his memo that following charges against Hayek, Harb made the following remarks to several local media outlets: “The president’s intervention helped in settling the issue ... I thank the president for his efforts ... some judicial bodies were collaborating with Hezbollah and making relentless efforts to satisfy them at the expense of justice.”
“Harb’s remarks, whether regarding the president or some judicial bodies are not just false, but completely fabricated,” Madi said.
He explained that the president has never intervened in the judiciary’s work and Harb’s remarks in this regard amount to an insult since they depict the president as biased toward Harb when he’s not.
“The judiciary or some judicial bodies do not collaborate with anybody ... at the expense of justice,” he said. “Obviously, Madi interpreted my remarks about pressures on President [Michel] Sleiman and the judiciary as insulting,” Harb in response.
In separate remarks Monday, Harb said he would ask for his immunity to be lifted without the need for the request of the general prosecutor who refrained from filing challenges against the suspect in his assassination attempt over the past months.
The lawmaker said Madi would regret what he did.
Madi said he did not discuss his request with Speaker Nabih Berri whom he visited at Ain al-Tineh later in the day. He explained that his visit was scheduled ahead of time.
Stripping an MP of his immunity before Parliament’s General Assembly requires a quorum of 65 lawmakers and a simple majority.
March 14 MPs and officials blasted the move and contacted Harb in a show of solidarity, wondering how the victim is prosecuted and the suspect remains at large, in reference to Hayek.
“Unfortunately, some prefer to arrest the victim and allow the killer to flee for unknown or known reasons,” Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat said in a statement.
“March 14 declares full solidarity with MP Butros Harb and calls on Judge Hatem Madi to reconsider his decision,” the statement said.
The coalition also said that the judiciary should have taken action immediately to arrest those behind Harb’s assassination attempt and not seven months after the crime was committed.
“The call [to lift immunity from Harb] was made less than 48 hours after the lawmaker made his statements ... but the charges against Mahmoud Hayek were made nearly seven months after the assassination attempt,” said the statement.
Telephoning Harb in a show of support was former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Kataeb leader Amin Gemayel, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and various March 14 lawmakers.
Michel Mouawad, the head of the Independence Movement, called on Madi to immediately revoke his request, which he described as shameful.
For his part, Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra said he could not understand how praising the president was interpreted as an insult.
“It is very unfortunate that issuing an arrest warrant against a suspect in the assassination attempt against Harb comes at the same time with the request for lifting immunity of our dear colleague,” Zahra said in a statement. “I wonder whether everyone subject to an assassination attempt should not speak about it or about who stands behind it to avoid being accused of having their immunity lifted.”