Al-Akhbar chief: The STL refused to clarify the charges against us
Published Thursday, May 29, 2014
Updated 8:19 pm: Al-Akhbar's editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin criticized the Special Tribunal for Lebanon's (STL) contempt judge for refusing to clarify the charges brought against him and the newspaper at a press conference Thursday following Amin's first hearing before the international court.
"We realized that there was a lot of ambiguity regarding the charges against me and in the trial procedures," Amin said. "We demanded clarifications but we didn’t get any."
"We were surprised that the judge wanted me to say that I understood the charges against me even though I said they were ambiguous. He insisted that I answer if I’m guilty or not, even though I don’t even understand the charges," Amin added.
He was referring to charges filed by STL prosecutors related to Al-Akhbar's decision in January 2013 to publish the names of 32 prosecution witnesses.
The Hague-based court was ostensibly set up to investigate the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri. But its critics accuse it of being a mere tool for the West and Israel to push their mandates in Lebanon.
The STL last month announced it had charged Amin, deputy director of Al-Jadeed TV Kharma Khayat, and their news organizations with obstruction of justice and contempt.
Prosecutors accuse the journalists of “knowingly and willfully interfering with the administration of justice” by publishing secret information about STL witnesses.
Amin attended his preliminary hearing Thursday via video-link during which he told the court that he does not recognize its legitimacy and therefore would not recognize any charges it files against him or his paper.
During the hearing, STL contempt judge Nicola Lettieri asked Amin if he understood the charges against him. He responded by saying that he did not understand them and has asked for clarification, but that the STL has refused to provide them with further detail.
Lettieri told Amin that he will regard his statement as a "not guilty" plea. Amin said he will not attend any further hearings and that he refuses that the court appoint a counsel to defend him or his paper in the "illegitimate" trial.
"The penalty is unknown. What is the penalty if Amin gets convicted?", Nizar Saghieh, Al-Akhbar's legal adviser asked during Thursday's press conference.
"This is the first time in an international tribunal that a company is put on trial," Saghieh, referring to Al-Akhbar said. "What will happen to the newspaper?"
Amin also criticized the judge for cutting him off during his statement before the court when he began talking about the recent wave of car bombs targeting Shia neighborhood in Lebanon.
The judge told him that those details were not relevant to the case.
"How is talking about assassinations, explosions and terrorist attacks in Lebanon irrelevant to the STL? The STL allegedly aims to restore peace and punish the ones threatening stability, but the judge told Amin that bringing up these attacks or the lack of security is not of concern to the court," Saghieh added.
Amin and Khayat could face up to seven years in jail and a 100,000 euro fine if convicted. But it remained unclear what would happen to their media organizations should the STL find them guilty as this case is without precedent.