BEIRUT: The editor-in-chief of Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper must appear before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon at a hearing Thursday, after the court rejected his appeal for a delay in the latest development in the controversial prosecution of two Lebanese journalists. “There is no reason to once again postpone Mr. [Ibrahim] al-Amin’s and Akhbar Beirut S.A.L.’s appearances before me,” Judge Nicola Lettieri said in an order published on the tribunal’s website, referring to the newspaper’s editor and its parent corporation.
“All the matters that Mr. al-Amin is concerned about can and will be raised before me, but at a public hearing,” Judge Lettieri added.
Amin, the editor-in-chief of the pro-Hezbollah daily, is accused of contempt and obstruction of justice by The Hague-based court, which is tasked with prosecuting those responsible for the 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.
The allegations are linked to news reports published by Al-Akhbar that included the details of individuals who are supposedly witnesses in the case. The STL argues that publishing these details endangers the lives of the individuals, whether or not they were witnesses and undermines public confidence in the tribunal.
Amin was initially supposed to appear before the court in mid-May, on the same day as Karma al-Khayyat, a senior editor at Al-Jadeed TV, who is also accused of contempt.
But Amin refused to attend the hearing, saying he had not been able to appoint a defense lawyer.
In another letter to the court before Thursday’s hearing, Amin asked that his court date “be postponed by a serious sufficient period of time.”
The editor cited a panoply of complaints in the letter, including concerns for his personal safety due to the fact that the STL is politically polarizing in Lebanon, whether the STL even has the right to prosecute Lebanese journalists for contempt, and that the case aimed to stifle media freedoms in Lebanon and to selectively persecute Al-Akhbar.
“I cannot hide from you my strong feelings that there are latent intentions to target me and Al-Akhbar,” Amin said in the letter, which was published on the STL website. “This selectiveness heightens the feeling the tribunal seeks to silence critical and dissenting media and prevent it from performing the necessary monitoring of the work of the tribunal.”
But the STL’s contempt judge said the issues raised by Amin can be addressed after his initial appearance before the court, which is intended to formally charge the editor.
When contacted by The Daily Star to comment on the order, Amin said his lawyer would later issue a statement in response.
The STL did not respond to a request for comment on the measures the court might take against Amin if he refuses to attend Thursday’s hearing.
The trial has caused controversy in Lebanon, where the court’s opponents accuse it of suppressing freedom of the press.
The STL indicted five members of Hezbollah in connection with the Hariri assassination. Their trial in absentia began in January and will resume next month.