Judicial tinderbox

Former MP and Cabinet Minister Michel Samaha. (The Daily Star,HO)

While it is too soon to cast judgment on Michel Samaha’s culpability, it should be taken for granted that the authorities had sufficient evidence for arresting him.

Whether that evidence finds him responsible or otherwise is now for the judiciary to decide, and Samaha must be presumed innocent until found guilty. But the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch knows it would be too risky to arrest someone of Samaha’s stature without sufficient information.

No sooner than the former information minister was arrested Thursday – along with his secretary, driver and two bodyguards – a seemingly never-ending stream of various rumors surfaced. This is not surprising, given Samaha’s pro-Syrian-regime stance and the obvious divisive opinions in the country over the crisis next door. But this rumor-mongering is nevertheless dangerous, and it is important to remember that it is the duty of the authorities to investigate this matter now, and it is vital that they are given the necessary support to do so.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati would only speak of what Samaha’s arrest was not in connection to, namely the 2005 killing of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri or Israel, and stipulated that the arrest was “security related.” This nicely vague terminology leaves a lot of room for the imagination, but the authorities’ disclosure that the arrest was linked to alleged bomb plots across the country has led some to accuse Samaha of attempting to sow dissension in Lebanon at an already tense time.

Whichever way the case now goes will have political consequences. If he is found guilty of the accusations against him, it could have catastrophic consequences. And if he is found not guilty, it will be hard for anyone to deny that he will have been the victim of nothing short of political assassination.

The relevant judicial authorities must now be respected to pursue their investigations in earnest. With Samaha’s political background, and his support for the Syrian government, it will be easy for many people to jump to conclusions about his presumed guilt.

This episode, which has only just begun, is also interesting as it has shed light on how vulnerable this government really is today, and how the arrest of one former minister can threaten the stability of the Cabinet even further. Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi has slammed the manner in which Samaha was arrested as “unacceptable.”

The days to come will hopefully enlighten us on the facts on the ground, but until then, it is imperative that the authorities, and the public, remain unbiased and nuanced in their treatment of the case.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 10, 2012, on page 7.




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