BEIRUT: Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil asked Cabinet Friday to petition the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to review the summons issued against Lebanese journalists Ibrahim al-Amin and Karma al-Khayyat.
Head of the Defense Office Francois Roux, however, believes that the journalists’ trial will likely generate a meaningful debate about issues related to press freedom, the tribunal’s mandate, and even the integrity of its investigations.
“What I hope, is to see a real debate here in the heart of the Tribunal ... where [the defense] can raise all kinds of questions,” Roux told The Daily Star.
He also insisted that while the court has found sufficient evidence to pursue contempt charges against Amin and Khayyat, the pair are innocent until proven guilty and may well be acquitted if the prosecution fails to meet the burden of proof.
“It is the role of the defense to insist that the accused are innocent until proven otherwise,” he told The Daily Star.
The charges stem from reports published in Al-Akhbar and broadcast by Al-Jadeed, both considered to be pro-Hezbollah outlets, which contained personal details about alleged witnesses.
“I think that for both the Tribunal and for the media, these will be very interesting debates,” Roux said.
Hezbollah has largely refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the STL, which it says is a Zionist-American project targeting the resistance. Five Hezbollah members have been charged in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The party denies any involvement.
Among the questions likely to be raised during the trial is why the court decided to prosecute Amin and Khayyat while Western reporters who have published sensitive details about the investigation have not drawn the same level of scrutiny. Hezbollah Ministers Hussein Hajj Hasan and Mohammad Fneish raised this issue at a recent Cabinet meeting.
In his summons, Judge David Baragwanath says that there was evidence suggesting that Al-Jadeed and Al-Akhbar were aware that publishing confidential information about alleged witnesses would interfere with the tribunal’s administration of justice.
Still, many have questioned whether the tribunal has overstepped its mandate by deciding to prosecute the journalists. In remarks made to LBCI Television channel, Roux said the case against Amin and Khayyat was germane to tribunal’s primary probe, the murder of Hariri.
“The question is ‘Were the witnesses put under pressure [when their personal information was published] or not.’ This issue is related to the basic case [Hariri’s assassination].”
The case against Amin and Khayyat, he added, would not be resolved overnight. “We are in the middle of a long judicial procedure. It is true that the individuals were summoned to appear before the judiciary on May 13, but the process will take a long time.”
“I want to say that international courts have looked into similar cases, and some have resulted in acquittal,” he said.
Regardless of whether or not Amin and Khayyat are ultimately found guilty, the trial has thrown into relief the deep divisions within the current government.
Bassil, from the Free Patriotic Movement, requested that the government ask the STL to reconsider the summons. This directly contradicts the stance of Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, who is close to the Future Movement. Rifi said the two journalists should abide by the court’s decisions.
After a Cabinet session Friday, Information Minister Ramzi Joreige said Cabinet would look into Bassil’s request in a later session.