BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea said Tuesday that demands to put false witnesses on trial masked the true objective of opposition forces seeking to abolish the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).
“Hizbullah and its allies do not want the STL, and today they are raising the issue of false witnesses, which is an unfounded one,” Geagea said in a news conference held at his residence in Maarab.
Geagea said Hizbullah’s weapons rather than the issue of false witnesses were the major factor behind raising sectarian tensions under the current circumstances.
“The other party says the issue of false witnesses will cause tensions in Lebanon, but it is the other party who is raising tensions. We consider Hizbullah’s arms the main reason for tensions,” Geagea said.
Commenting on the ongoing debate over the Justice Council’s jurisdiction to put false witnesses on trial, Geagea stressed that Hizbullah’s weapons should be probed by the Justice Council rather than the issue of false witnesses as called for by opposition parties.
Speaker Nabih Berri and Hizbullah lawmakers have demanded that the issue of false witnesses be addressed by the Justice Council, but a study by the Justice Ministry on the legal framework governing the issue said the Justice Council had no jurisdiction to look into the case of false witnesses.
A report by Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar said the Lebanese judiciary had jurisdiction to rule on the issue of false witnesses and the jurisdiction to decide whether they should be put on trial prior to,
or following, the release of the STL’s upcoming indictment.
But Najjar’s report stipulated that the council lacked jurisdiction to look into the issue since its role “is restricted to crimes committed against state security, spying activities, murders that relate to international law and undermining the state’s authority.”
Geagea said that in line with applicable laws, the issue of false witnesses “does not exist” and could not be tackled prior to the release of the STL’s indictment.
“The definition of false witnesses, as stipulated by the penal code, is that of individuals who gave a false testimony before a judicial authority … and more importantly, article 409 exempts a witness from trial if he recants a testimony given during investigations before a verdict is issued,” Geagea said.
Hizbullah and the country’s former top four security officers argue that testimonies by false witnesses misled investigations into former Premier Rafik Hariri’s assassination and led to the officers’ four-year arrest upon the demand of a UN investigation committee. They were released in 2009 by the STL for lack of evidence.
But Geagea said attempts by the four former officers, along with Hizbullah, to discredit the STL by raising the issue of false witnesses were unfounded since the security officials were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder after they tampered with the crime scene. “The four officers were released for lack of evidence in line with international standards and they are still suspects until further notice,” the LF chief said.
Former head of General Security Jamil al-Sayyed, backed by Hizbullah, has accused a number of prominent Lebanese security, political and judicial officials, as well as the STL, of standing behind false witnesses who misled probes which led to his arrest in 2005.
A lawsuit filed by Sayyed before the Syrian judiciary against a number of former witnesses and Lebanese officials led Damascus recently to file 33 arrest warrants against several prominent Lebanese officials.
Geagea slammed the Syrian arrest warrants as politicized, saying that, apart from Sayyed’s claims, there was no evidence to support the arrest warrants issued in Syria. “Where are the files backing the case except for lies by Sayyed?” Geagea asked.