BEIRUT: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has been placed on hold until an appeals chamber rules whether sufficient evidence exists to establish the death of defendant Mustafa Badreddine. In a majority decision issued Tuesday, the chamber granted a request by Badreddine’s attorneys to stay proceedings while they deliberate.
“This has the effect of suspending the proceedings before the trial chamber in the Ayyash et al. case, pending the appeals chamber’s decision on the merits of the appeal,” read the ruling.
Hezbollah’s top commander in Syria, Badreddine is one of five men on trial for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
There is no deadline for a ruling on the appeal, but defense attorneys have posited it could be a matter of weeks. Trial judges have asked the chamber to move quickly.
Reports of Badreddine’s death brought the prosecution’s case to a standstill, as defense counselors indicated they may ask to be replaced if required to proceed on behalf of a defendant they are convinced is dead.
They quickly appealed the bench’s finding that there was insufficient evidence he had been killed. Under international law, there is no clear evidentiary standard in place.
Defense attorneys contend that judges misinterpreted the available evidence, giving undue weight to the unclear circumstances of his passing. Hezbollah announced that Badreddine was killed by rebel artillery fire near the Damascus airport, initial media reports blamed an Israeli airstrike.
“It is the fact of his death, not how or where he died, that demands that proceedings against him be terminated,” read the appeal.
They argued judges had not given appropriate weight to a statement by Lebanon’s Grand Jaafarite Shiite mufti.
“The Jaafarite Grand Mufti is the highest religious authority in the Shiite community; his authority and decisions are acknowledged by the Lebanese state as holding true in matters of a legal nature.”
They also pointed to circumstantial evidence, citing media reports, statements by relatives and members of Hezbollah, recordings and photographs of the funeral, and identifications by investigators of those present.
This evidence was enough for Judge Micheline Braidy, who issued a dissenting opinion stating: “I am satisfied that sufficient evidence has been presented to establish that Mr. Badreddine is deceased.”
His attorneys will now wait to see if the appeals chamber agrees.