The Special Tribunal for Lebanon Contempt Judge Nicola Lettieri issued on Thursday a decision providing written reasons for the assignment of counsel in the case against Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. and al-Akhbar newspaper's editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin.
The initial appearances of Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. and al-Amin, which were originally scheduled for May 13, were rescheduled to May 29 upon the request of the accused.
Al-Amin, representing both himself and the company, appeared via video-conference last Thursday. But prior to entering a plea, he read a statement to the court, after which he left the courtroom.
Lettieri interpreted his statement and his actions as a plea of not-guilty, said the STL.
“After consultations with the parties the judge ordered the Defense Office to appoint counsel for the accused,” it said in a statement.
“The decision of the Contempt Judge makes it clear that al-Amin’s presence at the initial appearance means that he no longer has the rights that an Accused in an in absentia trial enjoys,” the STL said.
The Contempt Judge states in his decision that al-Amin may still participate in person or via video-conference in these proceedings, and appoint counsel of his own choosing to represent him if he wishes to do so.
In this case, Lettieri concludes that he “would be ready to reconsider” his decision on the appointment of the counsel on his behalf.
In addition to ordering the assignment of counsel, Lettieri ordered the Amicus Curiae Prosecutor to initiate disclosure at the earliest opportunity after counsel is assigned and necessary arrangements are made, the STL said in its statement.
Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. and al-Amin 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.”
New TV S.A.L. and deputy head of news at al-Jadeed television Karma Tahsin al-Khayat also face the same charges.
In April last year, a list of 167 names of so-called witnesses for the trial in ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination 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.
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