Lebanon special tribunal appoints defence lawyers

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The UN-backed tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri said Wednesday it had appointed defence lawyers for four Hezbollah members accused in the case.

"The Head of the Defence Office assigned a primary duty counsel and co-counsel to each of the accused," the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) said in a statement issued in The Hague.

"The purpose of these assignments is to ensure that the rights and interests of the accused are individually protected while the Trial Chamber considers whether to initiate in absentia proceedings," it added, stressing that the appointments were temporary.

The tribunal last week announced it would hold a hearing on November 11 to discuss whether to try the four Hezbollah members in absentia.

Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hussein Anaissi and Assad Sabra are wanted for the massive February 14, 2005, suicide car bomb attack in Beirut that killed Hariri and 22 others, including the suicide bomber.

All four are members of the Iranian-backed Shiite militia.

The lawyers were temporary appointments, Joeri Maas, the tribunal's defence office's chief of staff told AFP, adding that if the case went to trial in absentia, the defence office could re-assign lawyers "who are not necessarily the same as now."

The tribunal assigned a Canadian, a French-Lebanese, a French and British lawyers as lead counsel as well as a Lebanese, British, Egyptian and Swiss lawyers as co-counsel to represent the men, it said.

"If an accused is arrested, he of course has the right to choose a lawyer other than that designated by the office of the defence," Maas added.

The four face tribunal arrest warrants issued to the Lebanese authorities on June 30 as well as Interpol "red notices."

According to the indictment, Ayyash, 47 and Badreddine, 50, face charges of "committing a terrorist act by means of an explosive device" and homicide, while Anaissi, 37 and Sabra, 35, faced charges of conspiring to commit the same acts.

The court on August 17 unsealed the indictment against the four suspects and has said Lebanon must try harder to apprehend them, but the country's Hezbollah-backed government is widely seen as resistant to the tribunal's work.

A Western-backed government led by Hariri's son Saad collapsed in January largely over its support for the tribunal.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, now a key player in Lebanese politics, has said he doubts the four indictees will ever be found and has branded the tribunal a US-Israeli conspiracy aimed at bringing down Hezbollah.

The Hague-based tribunal which opened its doors in 2009 is the first international tribunal which can hold trials in absentia.

It is also the first tribunal with a designated defence office responsible for protecting the rights of the accused.

Led by French lawyer Francois Roux, it has 94 lawyers from around the world that can be assigned or chosen by defendants getting legal aid.

© 2011 AFP

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