Lebanese TV station cleared of contempt in Hariri case

18th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

A Lebanese television station was Friday cleared of charges of contempt for publishing details of witnesses in the trial of the alleged killers of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

The Hague-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon also cleared Al-Jadeed television's deputy chief editor, Karma Khayat, of one charge of contempt, but found her guilty of obstruction of justice for failing to remove the broadcast from the TV's website and social media as ordered.

Set up in 2007, the court is the only international ad hoc tribunal with the jurisdiction to try an act of terror.

It is specifically trying suspects charged with the murder of Hariri, killed with 22 others in a massive suicide car bombing on the Beirut waterfront on February 14, 2005.

The prosecutor "has not proved that... Al-Jadeed committed a criminal act," presiding judge Nicola Lettieri told the hearing at the tribunal's fortress-like building, located in a leafy suburb.

However, Khayat herself "was at least wilfully blind to the (court's) order," to remove the broadcasts from the station's website as well as from the YouTube social media video channel.

Al-Jadeed -- which had been critical of Hariri -- broadcast five programmes in August 2012 on the alleged witnesses due to testify at the highly-sensitive trial.

The prosecutor had later said "11 witnesses were approached," raising concerns about protecting the identities of those giving evidence.

Five suspected members of the Iran-backed powerful Lebanese Shiite militia, Hezbollah, have been indicted by the court.

Their trial in absentia opened in January 2014, but despite international warrants for their arrest, the five are yet to appear in court.

While Al-Jadeed had concealed the witnesses' faces and names were not mentioned, "nobody was fooled" about their identities, prosecutors told the judge during the trial.

In August a tribunal judge also ordered Khayat and her station to take down the broadcasts.

- 'Shooting the messenger' -

In her ruling, the judge found that although three of the 11 witnesses could be identified thanks to the television broadcast the prosecution had not proved "the individuals concerned suffered any harm from the disclosures."

Nor did the disclosures "undermine public confidence in the Tribunal's ability to protect the confidentiality" of witnesses.

Khayat is the first-ever accused to appear willingly before the STL, a hybrid tribunal that uses both international and Lebanese law in its judgements.

At the trial's opening in April, Khayat told the court her television station aimed to ensure that money to fund the tribunal was not being squandered.

Her lawyer Karim Khan said prosecutors were "shooting the messenger" because Al-Jadeed was not responsible for any leaks of the witnesses' identities.

Khayat faces a maximum seven-year prison sentence, and/or a fine of up to 100,000 euros ($106,000) and had denied the charges.

Khan told journalists on Friday even though he was satisfied that Al-Jadeed was acquitted, he would appeal the judgement against Khayat.

"The battle goes on. We have good grounds of appeal," Khan said.

"What I am most happy about is that we won three out of the four charges. What is left (the guilty verdict) is still being heavily contested by the defence."

"But ultimately this is a case that shouldn't have been brought in the first place," he said.


© 2015 AFP

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