The High Judicial Council, Lebanon’s highest court on Friday sentenced the Maronite Christian warlord Samir Geagea to life imprisonment for the attempted murder of a minister in 1991, ignoring pleas to wait until after Pope John Paul’s historic visit to the country.
Geagea led the Lebanese Forces (LF) militia in the 1975-90 civil war. First he was sentenced to death for the car bomb attack on then defence minister Michel al-Murr. But the sentence was immediately commuted to life imprisonment as it had already done in two other cases in which it earlier found Geagea guilty of killing a Christian politician and a former Christian militia official. Geagea is currently serving the two life sentences in an underground defence ministry cell.
The court ruled that Geagea ordered the 1991 assassination bid against Murr, a Greek Orthodox politician who is now interior minister and deputy prime minister in the government of billionaire Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Geagea was previously found guilty of the 1991 murders of Christian politician Dany Chamoun and his family and of Dr Antoine Zayek, a founder of the Lebanese Forces.
Geagea is also awaiting trial in a fifth murder case, the 1987 murder of Sunni Moslem prime minister Rashid Karami who was killed when a remote-controlled bomb blew up a helicopter in which he was travelling.
Geagea is the only sectarian militia leader from the 1975-90 civil war to have faced trial and some Christians see the authoritiess’ actions against him as indicative of a government bias against their minority community.
Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite church, has taken up Geagea’s case, publicly stating that the authorities should either try all former civil war leaders for their crimes or none at all. Geagea has been held for more than 1,100 days in a narrow underground cell where he is deprived of sunlight, fresh air, correspondence, company and access to the media.