Al-Jadeed TV's Karma al-Khayat and al-Akhbar daily's Ibrahim al-Amin might be sentenced to seven years in jail and/or fined 100,000 Euros if the Special Tribunal for Lebanon finds them to be in contempt of the court, STL spokesperson Marten Youssef told Naharnet on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, the STL said the two have been summoned to appear before it on charges of “contempt and obstruction of justice.”
“After the initial appearances of the accused, which are scheduled for 13 May 2014, a trial will take place at a future date before the Contempt Judge,” Youssef said in remarks to Naharnet.
“The maximum penalty that may be imposed on a person found to be in contempt of the Tribunal is a term of imprisonment not exceeding seven years, or a fine not exceeding 100,000 Euros, or both (Rule 60bis(K),” the spokesperson added.
He noted that the decision of the Contempt Judge may be appealed to a bench of three judges designated by STL's president “according to a pre-established roster.”
Turning to the issue of the freedom of the press, Youssef pointed out that it “relates both to the freedom of expression and the proper administration of justice.”
“However, the freedom of press cannot impinge upon the tribunal’s ability to function properly as a criminal court and to administer justice for the benefit of the people of Lebanon,” he noted.
“The tribunal’s rules are careful to only punish unlawful conduct that undermines the administration of justice. It leaves intact the ability of the press to comment and criticize the Tribunal’s work,” Youssef underlined.
“It is also important to note that Lebanese law also restricts the freedom of expression when the media publishes confidential material and when they interfere with the administration of justice,” he added.
In a statement it issued earlier on Thursday, the STL said: “Karma Mohammed Tahsin al-Khayat from al-Jadeed TV, as well as the station’s parent company New TV S.A.L., have been summoned to appear before the STL on two counts of Contempt and Obstruction of Justice.”
“Ibrahim Mohammed al-Amin from al-Akhbar, as well as the newspaper’s parent company Akhbar Beirut S.A.L., have been summoned on one count of Contempt and Obstruction of Justice,” it added.
The accused are being charged “under Rule 60 bis (A) of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence and all the charges relate to the Ayyash et al. Case,” the STL said.
The charges follow an investigation into three events by an amicus curiae, Stéphane Bourgon, who was appointed by STL's registrar on the request of the Contempt Judge, David Baragwanath.
An amicus curiae is an independent party who appears in court or otherwise provides their legal opinion on matters or legal issues in order to assist the court in its deliberations.
Following reports by the amicus, Baragwanath “concluded that there was prima facie evidence in two of these events that justify proceedings for contempt,” the STL said, adding that “the investigation continues in the third.”
New TV S.A.L. and Khayat, the network's deputy news and political program manager, are charged with “knowingly and willfully interfering with the administration of justice by broadcasting and/or publishing information on purported confidential witnesses” and “knowingly and willfully interfering with the administration of justice by failing to remove from al-Jadeed TV’s website and al-Jadeed TV’s YouTube channel information on purported confidential witnesses.”
Meanwhile, Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. and al-Amin, the newspaper's editor-in-chief, are charged with “knowingly and willfully interfering with the administration of justice by publishing information on purported confidential witnesses in the Ayyash et al. case.”
In his decision, Baragwanath clarified that publishing purported names of witnesses may amount to interference with the administration of justice, “because it reduces the confidence of both actual witnesses and the public, in the ability and the will of the Tribunal to protect its witnesses.”
Baragwanath has now recused himself from the case and Judge Nicola Lettieri will hear the case, the STL said.
The accused may choose whether to appear at the court in person or by video-link. The initial appearances of the accused are scheduled for May 13, 2014.
In April last year, a list of 167 names of so-called witnesses for the Rafik Hariri trial was published by a previously unknown group identified as "Journalists for the Truth."
The group said it wanted to "unveil the corruption" of the STL.
Both al-Akhbar and al-Jadeed published the list.
The STL seeks to try five members of Hizbullah it has accused of involvement in the attack that killed Hariri and 22 others on February 14, 2005, in Beirut.
Hizbullah accuses the court of being part of an "Israeli-U.S." plot, and has yet to hand over the suspects.
The trial opened in a suburb outside The Hague in January.
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