A letter from Dr.
April 29, 2000
To my Colleagues and Friends in Human Rights Organizations Worldwide, Greetings:
Elements of the Lebanese government began a fresh effort to put me in jail for my campaign to restore independence and integrity to the Lebanese justice system. As the purpose of this campaign is to safeguard the basic guarantees of human and civil rights, I ask for your support. Here is the story.
My work in human rights has always included the defense of students, political activists and dispossessed landlords and tenants before criminal, military and civil courts. This experience alerted me to the serious shortcomings of Lebanese justice, and how it is heavily influenced by political pressure, lack of independence and the steady deterioration in integrity.
Hence I have concentrated for years on campaigning for integrity in, and reform of, the justice system. This campaign accelerated after the resignation of the Hariri cabinet in November 1998. Unfortunately, corruption so far survives under the current government. Since last summer, I gave three press conferences and one lecture to an audience of lawyers, published one major newspaper article and made several published comments on the subject.
The most recent press conference, which I gave on April 19, 2000, was titled: Disclosures Related to the Symptoms of the Integrity Crisis within the Judicial Power, Facts and Documents. A few days later, a story was printed in several morning papers, without giving a source, alleging that the Higher Judicial Council, an organ with limited powers which mostly reports to the minister of justice, had considered the contents of my various conferences and made a decision to refer the same to the office of the prosecutor general. This constituted a threat that penal charges could be brought against me rather than investigating the disclosures I made. It prompted me, on April 26, 2000, to issue a statement (translation attached).
On April 28, 2000, several Lebanese papers published a story to the effect that the Beirut prosecutor, Mr. Joseph Mamari, brought charges against me claiming that I was caught in the act of defaming the judiciary! I telephoned Mamari and he confirmed the story but refused to disclose the substance of the alleged crime or the referenced article in the penal code.
Article 79 of the Legal Profession Code makes it unlawful to prosecute a member of the profession without prior authorization of the Council of the Bar. On three different prior occasions, requests were made for my prosecution for human rights causes, which were all denied. The prosecutors appealed in all three proceedings. One of the appeals was dismissed and the others are still pending. One involves a fax I had sent to Amnesty International on the subject of the prosecution and torture of two men, an architect and an insurance executive, and three women including an educator. The government had intercepted the fax and claims that it was defamatory to itself. The other is based on an absurd allegation by Solidere that I had employed Syrian workers to destroy its properties in Central Beirut!
This time, the prosecutor was in a great hurry and by maintaining that I was caught in the act he sought to exempt himself from the legal obligation to first seek the authorization of the Council of the Bar! He allegedly based his prosecution on the contents of a story carried by a Beirut newspaper, Ash-Shark. Obviously I do not publish or control Ash-Shark. In all events, Mr. Mamaris allegations are false and baseless. Moreover, he has a serious conflict of interest problem and he should have excused himself from acting in the case. He is directly implicated in my accusations of April 19, 2000, and his older brother, a more senior judge, is one of the judges I accused of taking illegal payments from CDR on behalf of Solidere.
In my press conference of October 14, 1999, I disclosed that the judges heading the various committees charged with assessing the value of the properties taken by Solidere, which put ridiculously low values on the said properties, received illegal payments from the Council on Development and Reconstruction (CDR) on behalf of Solidere. The Court of Accounts discovered the discrepancy and ordered the CDR to recover the monies from the company. Hence the CDR was compelled to bring action against Solidere for restitution of the amounts in question which exceed five billion Lebanese Pounds.
In my latest press conference, I made specific accusations of insufficient integrity naming a number of judges, which I backed by documents. For example, one of the highest-ranking judges was unlawfully exempted, through a document issued by another high ranking judge, from paying transfer taxes on his purchase of property. Still another high ranking judge, acting as the appointed caretaker of the properties of an absentee distant cousin who immigrated to Brazil half a century ago, sought and received authority from other judges to assign the property of the immigrant relative to his Judges daughter. The judge executed a deed actually transferring the title to his daughter.
I also called for the resignation of the Minister of Justice, Joseph Shawool, himself a former senior administrative judge, for failing to advance and implement new policies aimed at restoring the independence and integrity of the justice system and for reserving his old post and leaving it vacant.!
I was hoping that the government would open an investigation into the events I disclosed. But instead the Beirut prosecutor, obviously acting on orders from higher or parallel authorities, decided that I was defaming the system of justice by daring to point out its shortcomings and calling for reform and the restoration of integrity. They are clearly seeking to silence legitimate protests and calls for reform and integrity. The existing system is tragically short on the rights of defense and the application of guarantees of civil and human rights provided by the Lebanese constitution and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
I remain strongly convinced that, without restoring independence and integrity to the system, there is no way to safeguard these rights as well as other basic rights of the Lebanese. Therefore, your support is urgently requested in any way or form. Thank you in advance.
P.S. For those who wish to have an update of my personal
Biography, please open the attached file.