BEIRUT: The editor-in-chief of Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper will not appear at Tuesday’s hearing for contempt before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, after the court apparently failed to address the newspaper’s request to postpone the session, in the latest twist in the controversial case against two Lebanese media outlets.
Ibrahim al-Amin was scheduled to appear at 4:30 p.m. Beirut time before the STL’s contempt judge, after Karma al-Khayyat, the deputy head of news at Al-Jadeed TV, who traveled to The Hague to attend the hearing.
The two journalists are charged with contempt over news reports in which the outlets disclosed details of alleged STL witnesses.
The decision, which Amin confirmed in a telephone interview with The Daily Star, poses a dilemma for the court, which has avoided issuing arrest warrants for the editors.
Al-Akhbar’s management said in a statement that it asked the court on May 8 to postpone the hearing in order to “secure all the rights of the defense.”
But the newspaper said the STL only responded Sunday, saying it had received the letter that morning, without taking a decision on the matter.
In response, Al-Akhbar said Amin would not appear before the court, and held the STL responsible for any harm that may befall the newspaper’s staff as a result of the accusations.
“I have an enormous number of clarifications that if I do not get a response to I will of course not appear before it [the court],” Amin told The Daily Star.
The issues include whether STL staff are immune from being summoned as witnesses in the case, whether the contempt charges contravene Lebanese laws, and what criminal codes the STL relied on to accuse the journalists of contempt.
When asked by The Daily Star to comment on Amin’s decision, STL spokesman Marten Youssef said: “There is a summons to appear that has been served up on him and he is expected to appear either by video link or in person.”
Amin accused the STL of suppressing freedom of the press, saying the contempt charges go against human rights laws.
“It has no role other than to prevent Lebanese media from scrutinizing the work of the tribunal,” he said.
Amin said he would also raise the legality and legitimacy of the court’s creation. “We are fighting a political, media and legal battle to abolish this court, which has no constitutional or international legitimacy,” he said.
Amin also criticized the Lebanese government for surrendering to the STL’s authority.
“The Lebanese authorities from 2005 until today are partners in a crime of violating Lebanese sovereignty,” Amin said.
The STL is tasked with prosecuting those responsible for the 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others. It has indicted five members of Hezbollah in the case.
The summoning of journalists has triggered criticism and protests by some Lebanese groups against The Hague-based court. The STL says prosecuting the journalists is necessary in order protect witnesses who were intimidated by the disclosures.