A Lebanese former minister convicted last year of smuggling explosives and planning attacks had his jail sentence increased to nine years and nine months in court on Friday after a retrial.
Former information minister Michel Samaha, who has close ties to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was detained in August 2012 and sentenced in 2015 to four and a half years.
This latest sentence was for his suspected motivations, and was actually set at 13 years. In Lebanon, however, a prison year is equivalent to nine months.
Samaha, who was freed on bail in January pending his retrial, confessed to the charges before the first sentence was handed down, and gave details of a plot allegedly devised with Syria’s security chief Ali Malmuk.
Then Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi had described the shorter sentence as a travesty of justice.
Rifi resigned in February, partly due to Samaha’s release on bail, which he said showed the Shia movement Hezbollah, an ally of Assad, was causing paralysis in state institutions.
His bail was also cited by Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir as evidence of Hezbollah’s growing clout in the country, as Riyadh cut aid to Lebanon as part of efforts to isolate its main regional rival, Iran.
Syria war reflected
Syria is Lebanon’s largest neighbour and before its civil war had long played a dominant role in the tiny Mediterranean country.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal El Shayyal, reporting from the Lebanese capital, said that this sentencing was a reflection of how the Syrian war is playing out in neighbouring Lebanon’s politics.
Indeed, while ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri, figurehead for the March 14 movement, tweeted out his support for Samaha’s conviction, other public figures close to Hezbollah also used Twitter to vent on the “politicised” nature of the trial.
El Shayyal also highlighted another trial possibly taking place soon, of Sunni Muslim Shaykh Ahmed al-Assir, a supporter of rebel groups fighting President Assad in Syria accused of stoking armed conflict in Lebanon.
“Lebanon has already been on the brink ever since the regional conflict between Saudi and Iran started playing out here,” El Shayyal said. “Each side is trying to politicise [each issue] and score points.”