Special Tribunal for Lebanon aims to stifle Lebanese press

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Saad Hariri, the son of Lebanon's assassinated ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, recites
Saad Hariri, the son of Lebanon's assassinated ex-premier Rafiq Hariri, recites the Fatiha or the prayer of the dead over the tomb of his father in downtown Beirut late 30 May 2007, after the UN vote to set up an international court to try the murder suspects. (Photo: AFP-Patrick Baz)

Published Friday, April 18, 2014

A plan to stifle the Lebanese press is in the works, but this time it’s being orchestrated in the name of international justice. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) has moved to force the Lebanese media to refrain from publishing any information about the court’s work that the STL does not disclose officially. Their decision undercuts a main prerogative of the press and aims to turn the Lebanese media into a mouthpiece for the STL.

The International Commission of Inquiry, the STL’s forerunner, and the STL itself, have not dealt transparently with the investigations from the beginning. And yet, there are those in the international tribunal who continue to exploit the lack of interest in upholding national sovereignty among Lebanon’s rulers, and continue to undermine all requirements for transparency, a prerequisite for achieving justice.

The STL has now taken a procedural step to further restrict coverage of its work, with the knowledge and consent of the Lebanese authorities. According to a report broadcast by the Lebanese New TV channel on Thursday, the international tribunal has asked the Ministry of Justice via the Public Prosecutor to notify the Ministry of Information and Lebanese media outlets to stick to official texts released by the STL, asking the press to refrain from publishing any information related to its proceedings unless endorsed by the tribunal through official resolutions, communiqués, or in transcripts of its sessions.

New TV’s report on Thursday mentioned the following [translation]:

Four decisions by the pre-trial judge at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, issued respectively on June 28, 2011; May 25, 2012; June 14, 2012; and finally on June 5, 2013, have been relayed together to New TV and other Lebanese media outlets, via the National Media Council on April 1 - and at the time this seemed like an April Fools prank.

The four decisions that New TV received were almost unbelievable, advocating strict censorship by the STL over anyone who might be tempted to peer into the tribunal and its affairs, be it from the general public or, of course, the media. The most recent, decision dated June 5, 2013, states that the pre-trial judge at the STL has requested the Lebanese Court of Cassation to notify the general public, including media outlets in Lebanon, that they are prohibited from disseminating any confidential material and information related to the STL, and that those found responsible for disclosing information in a manner contrary to the decisions issued by the tribunal would be in breach of the provisions of Article 60 of the rules governing matters of contempt and obstruction of justice, an offense punishable by up to seven years in prison.

According to New TV’s report, the STL wants to bar the Lebanese public and press from having any access to confidential material leaked from inside the tribunal, even though said material is not officially designated as “confidential” or “top secret.”

The onus would thus fall on the public and the media to refrain from disseminating this information, when it is the STL that must take action to discover the source of the leaks and protect its confidential information from reaching the public and the media. In other words, the STL has opted for dictatorial methods in dealing with the media.

The decision recalls the three previous ones, which call for maintaining the secrecy of the supporting material for the STL’s indictments, to protect witnesses and ensure the proper functioning of the ongoing investigations, in addition to preventing third parties, meaning the press, from publishing any unauthorized material related to the tribunal.

Perhaps we should remind the tribunal that its sessions are public and are aired live by broadcasters. This can only mean that its decisions are a blatant attempt to suppress critical media coverage, meant to hold the STL accountable for its errors and excesses, especially as the tribunal is suspicious to at least half of the Lebanese population, who believe it to be deeply politicized.

It would have been more prudent for the STL, when it was still in the investigating stage for example, to protect its sources and keep them secret from the media – including Future TV, CBC, Der Spiegel, and New TV itself, which carried leaked audio recordings obtained from inside the tribunal, shedding light on the false witnesses scandal.

Instead of trying to interfere in the work of the media, and threatening media workers with prison sentences of up to seven years and fines of up to 100 thousand euros, the STL should fulfill its responsibilities in controlling its staff who leak confidential material and to prosecute them.


This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


It is unpardonable for you to write this editorial opinion and publish it. Your parents are very disappointed in you and suggest you go straight to bed without your supper so you can meditate on your failure to be faithful to them. If you would prefer to commit suicide, this would be fine, also. The main thing to remember is that you cannot trust your own judgment on any matter whatsoever except when you decide to obey your parents-in-effect without question. Otherwise, what good are parents?

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