BEIRUT: Ibrahim al-Amin, editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar, walked out of a contempt hearing at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon after accusing the court of “oppression” Thursday.
The journalist left the controversial hearing after reading a statement denouncing the STL as a political tool whose backers fuel war and strife in Lebanon.
“There appears to be no reason for my attendance,” Amin told Contempt Judge Nicola Lettieri, accusing the Italian judge of imposing “oppressive measures” for interrupting his statement.
“I would like to go back to my home and my children,” he said.
“You are a free man and nobody is oppressing you,” Lettieri replied. “You decided to come out of your own free will. You are a free man and can do what you want.”
Amin walked out of a room where he appeared via video-link after the judge interrupted him to respond to the editor’s allegations that he was forced to show up.
In protest of the judge’s move, the journalist then said he would maintain “complete silence” throughout the proceedings and rejected any court-appointed defense lawyers.
Seconds later, Amin removed his headphones and walked out of the tribunal’s offices in Monte Verde.
In his statement, Amin rejected the STL’s authority and said it had failed to take the most basic steps to ensure a fair trial.
“I do not accept the legitimacy of this court which was invented by the Security Council, which has never guaranteed global security,” he said.
Amin said the Security Council failed to secure the rights of the Palestinian people and created the STL to investigate a single political assassination while ignoring Israel’s crimes during the 2006 War on Lebanon and the car bombings that swept Lebanon in recent months.
He also added that the series of car bombings in Lebanon targeted people of particular sect, referring to Shiite dominated neighborhoods where Hezbollah enjoys wide support.
“No Security Council or international tribunal sprung into action,” Amin said.
Amin also said the tribunal was created in contravention of Lebanese political norms.
“Your court, your honor, is part of a political course,” he said.
The editor then said that the Lebanese and regional powers that backed the court were responsible for plunging Lebanon into continuous turmoil.
“We all know that local, regional and international powers which stand behind the creation of the tribunal are the same that instigate enduring wars in my country, against my people, and against its heroic resistance that is standing up to American, European and Israeli terrorism,” Amin said.
Judge Lettieri then interrupted Amin, saying that he had chosen to appear with his own free will and that no arrest warrant had been issued against the editor, in response to the editor’s statement that he was almost forced to attend the hearing.
“You chose to come and appear before the court,” Lettieri said. “We never used force against you. You could have declined the right to attend and the proceedings would have continued in absentia.”
Lettieri also said the STL had no jurisdiction over the crimes Amin spoke about and that he could contest the tribunal’s right to prosecute him.
Earlier in the hearing, Amin, wearing headphones and speaking to Judge Lettieri, said he was appearing without a defense lawyer. He was representing himself and Al-Akhbar’s parent company.
The journalist is charged with contempt and obstruction of justice over news reports that included the names of alleged court witnesses. The court argues that such actions undermine confidence in its work.
Judge Lettieri read out the charges directed against Amin, but said the accusations were not motivated by the newspaper’s criticism of the tribunal.
The editor of the pro-Hezbollah daily was initially supposed to appear before the court in mid-May, but asked for a postponement to appoint a defense lawyer.
In a letter earlier this week, Amin outlined to the court a raft of concerns over his prosecution, including fears for his personal safety and questions over the STL’s right to prosecute journalists.
The case has sparked a protest campaign in Lebanon, with opponents arguing that the STL is stifling freedom of the press. The court argues that it must act to protect witnesses.
The STL is tasked with prosecuting those responsible for the Feb 14 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others, and plunged Lebanon into political turmoil.
The U.N.-backed court has indicted five members of Hezbollah in connection with the attack. It will resume their trial in absentia in The Hague next month.