International tribunal announces start of appeals in Hariri case

On December 11, after six years of trial, the Netherlands-based court sentenced Salim Ayyash to five life terms following his conviction in August.
Thursday 14/01/2021
Additional judges, the prosecution and defense lawyers are seen on screens via video link due to COVID-19 measures, at the start of the session of the United Nations-backed Lebanon Tribunal, in Leidschendam, Netherlands, last December. AFP
Additional judges, the prosecution and defense lawyers are seen on screens via video link due to COVID-19 measures, at the start of the session of the United Nations-backed Lebanon Tribunal, in Leidschendam, Netherlands, last December. (AFP)

THE HAGUE --An international tribunal charged with investigating the 2005 murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri announced Wednesday the start of the appeals phase in the case of four suspects, including one sentenced to life.

Four suspected members of the Lebanese Iran-backed Hezbollah movement were tried in absentia for Hariri’s assassination, a major attack that killed 21 others and wounded 226.

On December 11, after six years of trial, the Netherlands-based court sentenced Salim Ayyash to five life terms following his conviction in August.

But the court said there was a lack of evidence to convict the three other defendants — Assad Sabra, Hussein Oneissi and Hassan Habib Merhi.

All four were tried in absentia, including Ayyash, 57, who remains on the run.

Prosecutors, Ayyash’s lawyers and victims’ representatives have filed notices of appeal against the judgements for varying reasons, the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon announced.

“The filing of the notices of appeal marks the beginning of the appeals phase,” it said in a statement.

In this file photo obtained on July 29, 2011 from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon shows the four Hezbollah suspects indicted in the assassination case of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, (from top L-R) Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Assad Hassan Sabra, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Salim Jamil Ayyash. (AFP)
In this file photo obtained on July 29, 2011 from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon shows the four Hezbollah suspects indicted in the assassination case of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, (from top L-R) Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Assad Hassan Sabra, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Salim Jamil Ayyash. (AFP)

The prosecutor’s office said it was alleging “errors of law and errors of fact” and argued that “such errors invalidate the judgement and occasion a miscarriage of justice.”

According to the tribunal, Ayyash’s lawyers “challenged every finding of guilt returned by the trial chamber” and called for the conviction to be overturned. They were also appealing against the sentence.

The victims’ representatives are appealing against the decision not to impose financial penalties against Ayyash, the tribunal said.

The appeals chamber of the tribunal can confirm, reverse or revise the trial judgement, sentence or both. It can also order a retrial if necessary.

A date was not announced for the start of hearings in the appeals phase.

In the February 2005 attack, a suicide bomber detonated a small van full of explosives as Hariri’s armoured convoy passed.

Ayyash was found guilty of conspiracy to commit a terrorist act, committing a terrorist act using an explosive device, the “intentional homicide” of Hariri and of 21 other people and attempted homicide of those injured in the attack.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has refused to hand him over or to recognise the UN-backed court.

The court has issued an international warrant for his arrest.