Al-Akhbar chief walks out of "illegitimate" STL hearing

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Ibrahim al-Amin speaks on a cell phone inside Al-Akhbar's Beirut office after walking out of his STL session. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Marc Abizeid, Rana Harbi

Published Thursday, May 29, 2014

Al-Akhbar editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin appeared briefly before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) by video-link Thursday where he told the court he does not recognize its legitimacy and excused himself.

"I reiterate today that I do not acknowledge the legitimacy of this tribunal. It was created by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which has never guaranteed the security of any country, secretly and in violation of Lebanese sovereignty," Amin told the The Hague-based court, ostensibly set up to investigate the 2005 assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri.

"The UNSC has never set up an international tribunal to prosecute Zionist war criminals," Amin said during a preliminary hearing into charges related to Al-Akhbar's publication of a secret witness list.

"The security council established this tribunal as a political tool. I would like to remind you that shortly after the establishment of this tribunal Israel committed a massacre resulting in the deaths of 1,300 Lebanese in July 2006," and no investigation was launched into that assault, he added.

The contempt judge Nicola Lettierj interrupted Amin's statement, saying Amin was bringing up issues which do not fall under the court's jurisdiction.

Lettieri said he will interpret his remarks as a not guilty plea, to which Amin responded: "I do not recognize the existence of this tribunal so I can not allow it entitlement to charge me."

"I would like to inform you that I will remain silent during all the proceedings and refuse to appoint any lawyer to represent me or Al-Akhbar, and I refuse that you appoint a lawyer to defend me or the company."

Amin then asked the judge if he was free to leave. Judge Lettiery affirmed that Amin was free to do as he pleased, after which he removed his headset and left his computer.

"We can at least say goodbye," the slightly startled judge said after Amin had already disappeared from the screen. Lettieri then adjourned the session.

In an interview with Al-Jadeed after returning to Al-Akhbar's office, Amin asked for the judge to publicly apologize for cutting him off while he delivered his statement.

The judge interrupted Amin after he noted that many of STL's backers are the same "killers and criminals" linked to the recent wave of car bombings in Lebanon targeting Shia neighborhoods because of their perceived support for Hezbollah.

Hezbollah is fighting inside Syria on the side of the government against an Islamist-dominated opposition that is backed by Saudi Arabia, most Western countries and Lebanon's March 14 political alliance. The rebel fighters have claimed responsibility for attacks in Lebanon, citing Hezbollah's role.

The judge told him such remarks were not relevant to the STL case.

"Unless the judge publicly apologizes for [cutting me off] and provides me with a full range of guarantees, I will not attend the trials," Amin said. "The court is of no interest to me anymore and refuse any decision issued by it."

By guarantees, Amin was referring to his request earlier this week that the STL provides assurances that neither he, his family or colleagues at Al-Akhbar would be put in danger by the court's indictment against him and the paper.

The STL has come under fire by media rights groups after announcing last month that it charged Amin, deputy director of Al-Jadeed TV Kharma Khayat, and their news organizations with two counts of 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.

Amin is shown in an image grab from a live stream of the STL session.

Judge Lettieri had pushed Amin's appearance before the court, originally set for May 13, to May 29 after the newspaper chief asked for more time to assemble a defense team.

But the judge denied Amin's request earlier this week for another postponement.

"I stand today a little over 100 kilometers from a land called Palestine. Palestinians are the only people on the face of earth who are not granted basic rights including entitlement to self-determination," Amin told the judge during Thursday's brief session.

"Crimes against Palestinians continue to get committed amid international silence as the UNSC never made a single move regarding this issue and did not set up international tribunals to prosecute the atrocities practiced by Zionists. Consequently, how is it possible for downtrodden people to trust this council and its decisions?"

Amin has been one the most vocal of the STL’s many critics, repeatedly accusing the court of carrying out Western and Israeli dictates in Lebanon and insisting its UN-mandated authority violates Lebanese sovereignty.

Those charges were supported earlier this month by a study conducted by Lebanese University legal experts who concluded that the STL bears no legal mandate in Lebanon.

For the court to be granted legal jurisdiction in Lebanon, the report said, it would need to be recognized as a legitimate body by local laws approved by Parliament, which has not happened.

The charges against Amin and Al-Akhbar relate to the paper's decision in January 2013 to publish the names of 32 witnesses belonging to the STL's prosecution.

Khayat and Al-Jadeed were charged over the broadcasting of reports in August 2012 on potential STL witnesses.

The STL prosecution accuses Khayat of having instructed Al-Jadeed journalist Rami al-Amin to meet with purported witnesses that had been contacted by STL investigators with the prosecution team and learn what information the witnesses provided them with.

The results of Al-Jadeed's investigation were broadcast in five episodes in August 2012 before being uploaded to their website and YouTube channel.

Khayat and Al-Jadeed pleaded not guilty to the charges during their initial appearance on May 13.

The international media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) earlier this month criticized the STL for the "grave" charges leveled against Amin and Khayat.

"We are concerned by the grave charges against these two Lebanese journalists and their news organizations and we stress the importance of freely reported and responsible news coverage in Lebanon’s tense political context,” RSF research director Lucie Morillon said in a statement.

The journalists have also received the support of Lebanon's Press Syndicate and Parliament's Media and Telecommunications Committee.

Online activists have also launched the #STLP hashtag, an abbreviation of “Support the Lebanese Press,” in solidarity with the accused.

Comments

The thin end of the wedge of illegal fascist world "government" hits a Lebanese obstacle.

You are a brave and moral man Mr Amin. Your enemies are vipers including this STL thing created & run by pure evil for evil intentions.

Our strong support and solidarity
Sukharan sir, for telling that bloody useless barbaric organisation what the vast majority of decent people would like to tell them
we applaud you.
Salaams "special friend" you have what it takes to be an individual above the rest

Mr. al-Amin, I commend you for your courage and strong stance against this illegitimate, treasonous, fake and sham cabal AKA STL!

Bravo Ibrahim!

You have guts to speak and tell a thief on his face!

God protect you!

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