Prosecutors at Hariri tribunal oppose trial in absentia

THE HAGUE - Prosecutors at the tribunal investigating the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri said Tuesday it was premature to begin a trial in absentia against the accused Hezbollah members.
Lebanon's government, closely linked to the Iran-backed Shiite militia, has so far failed to arrest Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hussein Anaissi, and Assad Sabra, wanted for the February 2005 murder of Hariri and 22 others.
"It is premature to initiate a trial in absentia", Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) prosecutor Daniel Bellemare said in a document published on the court's website Tuesday.
Last month, a judge asked the pre-trial chamber to determine whether proceedings in absentia against the four Hezbollah members were appropriate.
Ahead of a Friday hearing on the issue, the court asked both the prosecutors and defence lawyers to weigh in.
"Not enough time has been allowed for the Lebanese authorities to effect the arrests of the four accused", Bellemare said.
A previous Beirut government, led by Hariri's son Saad, cooperated with the tribunal, but in January Hezbollah toppled that western-backed coalition, largely over its support for the special tribunal.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, whose militant party is blacklisted as a terrorist group by Washington, has dismissed the STL as a US-Israeli conspiracy, vowing that no member of Hezbollah would ever be found or arrested.
"Not enough has been done to effect the arrests because the Lebanese authorities have either been unable or unwilling to do so," the prosecutor's statement further said.
The Hague-based STL, which opened its doors in 2009, is the first international tribunal which can hold trials in absentia.
It is also the first with a designated defence office responsible for protecting the rights of the accused.