BEIRUT: The spokesman for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon condemned a recent report by Al-Akhbar Friday, saying the news outlet was irresponsible for publishing the names of alleged witnesses.
He suggested the tribunal had the power to punish violators of the trial’s integrity with contempt of court. Spokesman Marten Youssef made his remarks in Beirut at a conference about improving reporting on the court and international justice issues hosted by Samir Kassir Eyes, the European Union and Sam Houston State University from the United States.
“The publishing of names of witnesses or what appears to be names of witnesses is irresponsible journalism,” Youssef told The Daily Star about AlAkhbar’s report.
“While the STL cannot confirm the content of the news article in Al-Akhbar, we condemn any attempt to intimidate and compromise the identities of any individuals, which may impact the safety and security of Lebanese citizens and undermine the administration of justice,” Youssef said in a statement after the event.
He said the publication of protected information from the trial could put people’s lives at risk and possibly violates the court’s authority.
“Any [deliberate] disclosure of confidential information violates the STL’s rules of procedure and evidence and can be subject to judicial proceedings for contempt,” Youssef said.
Earlier this week Al-Akhbar, which has been very critical of the tribunal and the court process, published the names, photos and information of a number of people the newspaper claimed were being named as witnesses by the prosecution in the international court case over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The information, which the newspaper said it had received from a leak from within the tribunal, included full names, ages, and occupations for those listed.
The STL was set up in 2007 after the 2005 killing of Hariri in Beirut. In 2011 the prosecution indicted four Hezbollah members in absentia for the bombing and has been slowly moving toward a trial. So far the case revealed by the prosecution hinges on cellphone data and testimony of over 550 witnesses.
It was a number of those witnesses that Al-Akhbar claimed to have revealed the identity of in their report, saying their story showed the “nature of the prosecution’s evidence, which is circumstantial at best.”
Youssef said the court had powers to protect witnesses if needed and would try to prevent leaks from occurring.
“As a measure of last resort, the STL’s Registry has a protection program in place, [for individuals] considered by the judges to be at risk of imminent serious harm or death as a result of their interaction with the Tribunal,” he said.
The prosecution has had a number of setbacks during the pretrial phase, including the release of suspects held for years, allegations of false witness testimony and a number of changes in prosecution leadership. The defense has recently claimed it had had inadequate time and resources to prepare a defense and needed more time before the trial could begin.