STL Trial Chamber Decides to Try Hassan Habib Merhi in Absentia

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon said Friday that its Trial Chamber has decided to try the accused Hassan Habib Merhi in his absence.

“In issuing this decision on trial in absentia, the judges relied on reports from the Lebanese authorities detailing their efforts to apprehend the Accused and to inform him of the charges against him. They also relied on efforts by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to publicize the indictment against Mr. Merhi and on its widespread coverage in the Lebanese media,” said a statement issued by STL's press office.

An indictment against Merhi was confirmed in July 2013 and served on the Lebanese authorities to search for, arrest and transfer the accused to the custody of the STL. “This is an ongoing obligation,” said the court.

“The Trial Chamber has concluded that Mr. Merhi has absconded or otherwise cannot be found and all reasonable steps have been taken to secure his appearance before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and to inform him of the charges by the Pre Trial Judge,” the decision stated.

The STL is the only international tribunal that allows for trials in absentia, which is permissible under Lebanese law.

“The Prosecution has now applied to join Mr. Merhi's case with the four Accused in the Ayyash et al. Case. If permitted, Mr. Merhi would then be jointly charged and tried in the Ayyash proceedings,” the STL noted.

Last week, STL President David Baragwanath on Friday urged Merhi anew to appear before the court and appoint a lawyer to represent him.

“Seven weeks ago, on October 21, 2013, I invited you to consider whether you are prepared to face the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to answer the charges in the indictment,” Baragwanath said in a written statement addressed to Merhi.

On October 21, Baragwanath had announced the confirmation of an indictment accusing Merhi of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri, for which four other accused are to be tried in absentia. The trial will begin on January 16, 2014.

Merhi is charged with a number of crimes including "the crime of conspiracy aimed at committing a terrorist act." He is alleged to have acted in a conspiracy with Hizbullah members Mustafa Amin Badreddine, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, and Assad Hassan Sabra in relation to the attack on February 14, 2005, all of whom have already been indicted.

The accused Merhi is alleged to have coordinated the preparation of the purported claim of responsibility as part of the preparations for and in furtherance of, the attack, said the STL.

The STL said Merhi is “a supporter of Hizbullah” who was born on December 12, 1965 in Beirut. “He is the son of Habib Merhi and Latifa Abbas,” it added, revealing that he has resided in Burj al-Barajneh and that “he is a citizen of Lebanon.”

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has rejected the STL, describing it as an American-Israeli conspiracy against his party. He has vowed never to cooperate with the tribunal, saying that the suspects will never be found.

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