UN court set up to try the killers of ex Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri convicted a Beirut-based newspaper and its editor of contempt Friday for publishing information about confidential witnesses in the case.
“I find both the accused guilty,” said Special Tribunal for Lebanon ( STL) judge Nicola Lettieri referring to Al Akhbar newspaper and its editor in chief Ibrahim al-Amin
A new hearing will be held Monday to discuss sentencing, he said.
Al-Amin and the pro-Hezbollah Al Akhbar newspaper each faced a contempt of court charge after they ran two articles in January 2013 with the names and photographs of 32 witnesses in its Arabic print and online editions.
The articles were entitled STL Leaks: The Prosecution’s Surprise Witnesses and The STL Witness List: Why We Published.
Several witnesses afterwards feared for their safety after the information was published, Judge Lettieri said at the hearing held at the court’s fortress-like headquarters just outside The Hague.
The witnesses were worried that the information would be widely circulated in print and online, not only as STL witnesses, but also as witnesses “whose testimonies would be used to incriminate Hezbollah,” the judge said.
“The tribunal puts in balance the freedom of the press and the need to ensure the integrity of the tribunal’s work,” said Lettieri.
“But freedom of press cannot be used as an impenetrable shield,” he added.
Judge Lettieri added: ” While I accept that the accused and all media are free to report on the Tribunal’s work, and even criticise it, I see no journalistic value or pressing social need in the decision to publish the names, photographs and other fully identifying information of 32 purported confidential witnesses.”
Some of the witnesses “suffered a direct and negative impact from their identification in the publications,” the judge said.
Contempt of court
Hariri and 22 others, including a suspected suicide bomber, died in a massive car bomb blast on the Beirut waterfront on Feb 14, 2005.
Five suspected members of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah were originally indicted by the court and their trial in absentia opened in January 2014 last year.
However, the court earlier this month quashed the case against one of the accused, Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine, who is believed to have died in May.
The others accused are still being tried in absentia.
Earlier this year the STL on appeal acquitted a senior Lebanese television journalist in a similar case involving the alleged publication of witness names in the highly-sensitive trial.
Al-Jadeed television’s deputy chief editor, Karma Khayat, had in September last year been cleared of one charge of contempt of court after her station published details of the witnesses.
The television station had also been cleared of all accusations of contempt brought against it.
But Khayat was found guilty by the tribunal on a lesser charge of obstruction of justice for failing to remove the broadcast from the broadcaster’s website and social media as ordered.
That charge was dropped on appeal in March.
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has dismissed the tribunal as a US-Israeli plot, and vowed that none of the men will ever be caught.— AFP