STL names panel to investigate contempt judge for bias
Published Friday, July 4, 2014
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has appointed a three-judge panel to investigate contempt judge Nicola Lettieri for bias after Al-Akhbar editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin complained that he was taking sides in a case against him and the newspaper.
Amin, who has been charged along with Al-Akhbar by the The Hague-based court with contempt and obstruction of justice for publishing the names of 32 prosecution witnesses in January 2013, filed a submission last month asking that Lettieri be dismissed.
"On 25 June 2014, the Accused filed a submission before Judge Lettieri in which they raised a number of allegations with respect to the neutrality and impartiality of Judge Lettieri in hearing the case," STL president Judge David Baragwanath wrote in a statement issued Thursday.
"In particular, they stated that they found themselves 'with no alternative than to bring an action before the competent authority aimed at bringing about [Judge Lettieri’s] dismissal and disqualification in the hearing of this case ..., ordering that [Judge Lettieri] cease to sit on this trial or take any other measure in connection therewith pending a decision in respect of the application for withdrawal'," the statement added.
Baragwanath appointed Judge Daniel Fransen, Judge Afif Chamseddine and Judge Ivana Hrdličková to sit on a panel to investigate Amin's allegations against Lettieri.
Amin became outraged at Lettieri during his initial appearance before the court in May after the judge cut him off while giving a statement in which the newspaper chief noted that the STL's backers belong to the same camp behind recent car bombs and suicide attacks in Lebanon.
Lettieri dismissed the remarks as irrelevant to the case, prompting Amin to walk out of the hearing. Amin later called on Lettieri to publicly apologize for cutting him off.
The judge also defied Amin's order refusing a defense counsel to represent him in the trial. The STL defense office, under threat by Lettieri, recently appointed lawyer Antonios Abou Kasm to represent Amin and the newspaper.
The STL has come under fire by media rights groups after announcing in April that it charged Amin, deputy director of Al-Jadeed TV Karma 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.
If found guilty, Amin and Khayat could face up to seven years in prison and a 100,000 euro fine.