Journalists denounce STL charges against Al-Akhbar, Al-Jadeed

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Ibrahim al-Amin (left) and Karma Khayat (right) listen to speakers at the Lebanese Press Syndicate in Beirut on May 28, 2014. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

Published Monday, April 28, 2014

Updated 6:30 pm: Journalists and supporters of media freedom gathered at the Press Syndicate in Lebanon's capital Monday in solidarity with the editors of Al-Akhbar and Al-Jadeed who have been charged by an international court with contempt and obstruction of justice.

The Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) last week announced that it was summoning Al-Akhbar's editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin and Al-Jadeed Television's deputy director Karma Khayat for publishing a list of the prosecution's witnesses.

"As a journalistic body we have our differences but today we need to unite. The STL did what it did, the STL dared to do what it did, because the Lebanese government allowed it to do this," Amin told the participants at the event.

"The information minister is not doing his job, he is not taking responsibility. The Lebanese government has given up our right to freedom of speech," he added.

Information minister Ramzi Jreij chose to send a letter instead of showing up and supporting freedom of the press. Participants booed as a member of the Press Syndicate read aloud the letter in which the minister stated he wanted to wait for the court to finish its investigation before taking a position on the matter.

But later in the evening Jreij held a press conference after meeting with delegations from Al-Akhbar and Al-Jadeed in which he asserted the right of media to criticize the STL without repercussions.

"During the meeting that took place today at the Press Syndicate, I expressed in a letter my solidarity with the media considering that freedom of the press is sacred and protected by the Lebanese constitution," Jreij said.

"I discern a clear distinction between my belief in the legitimacy of the STL and my condemnation of the charges against the journalists."

The tribunal, set up to investigate the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, has charged the journalists and their media organizations with "knowingly and willfully interfering with the administration of justice by broadcasting and/or publishing information on purported confidential witnesses."

The court set May 13, 2014 as the date for Amin and Khayat to appear before it, either in person or via video link. If found guilty, they could be jailed for seven years and fined up to 100,000 euros.

Journalists from different news outlets and Lebanese officials have denounced the STL for targeting media.

"This case is not just about Ibrahim and Karma," MP Hassan Fadlallah, who heads the media and telecommunications committee in parliament, told the room filled with journalists and government officials. "This case concerns all the Lebanese citizens."

"It's a shame not all media are participating in this event," Pierre al-Daher, CEO of LBCI Television, said. "The STL's arbitrary decision is a clear violation of freedom of speech and of the press."

"Every time I think about the $500 million we [the Lebanese public] paid to the STL, I start trembling," Tahsin Khayat, owner of Al-Jadeed, declared. "Instead of wasting all this money on the STL, we should have paid it to Lebanon's judiciary."

Many of the participants faulted the STL for steering the investigation away from its stated mission.

"The STL's mission is to find out the truth behind Hariri's assassination. But instead of doing its job, it's going after journalists," lawyer Rashad Salameh, a lawyer defending plaintiffs in the STL case, said.

__title__Journalists gather at Lebanon's press syndicate to denounce the charges against their colleagues. (Photo: Rana Harbi)

"The tribunal was set up to investigate the killing of our former prime minister, so why is it going after journalists? That doesn't help its case," MP Ziad Aswad told Al-Jadeed during a broadcast before the start of the event.

"The Lebanese state needs to take a stand against this," he added.

"This shows that the tribunal is a politicized court," MP Ismail Sukariye told Al-Jadeed. "We stand in solidarity with Al-Akhbar and Al-Jadeed.

Journalists from various Lebanese and Arab media organizations, some of them at politically at odds, set aside their differences in a show of support for press freedom.

"At the end of the day we are all reporters and we all stand in solidarity with one another," Najat Charafeddine, from Future TV, told Al-Jadeed.

Dima Sadek, anchorwomen with LBCI, said it was ridiculous that the STL could threaten Lebanese journalists for merely publishing information from an inside source at the court.

"I would understand if they went after the source inside the court who leaked this information, but to give a seven year jail sentence to the journalists who published it" would be outrageous, she said.

The Press Syndicate also announced a demonstration for May 6 at Martry's Square in solidarity with the journalists.



Al Akhbar's editor-in-chief exposed the names of people who were to be questioned in a politically motivated murder case to help protect the perpetrators and scare people from testifying. In a normal country this would be seen for what it is -- an attempt to block justice for the victims. Amin's intentions are clear in doing this and it has nothing to do with journalism, freedom or finding out who was behind the bombing of Hariri's motorcade -- he wanted to protect his paymasters in Hezbollah.

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