Leidschendam, 24 April 2014- Two journalists and two media organisations have been charged with contempt before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Karma Mohamed Tahsin al Khayat from Al-Jadeed TV, as well as the station's parent company New TV S.A.L., have been summoned to appear before the STL on two counts of Contempt and Obstruction of Justice. Ibrahim Mohamed Al Amin from Al Akhbar, as well as the newspaper's parent company Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. have been summoned on one count of Contempt and Obstruction of Justice. The accused are being charged under Rule 60 bis (A) of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence and all the charges relate to the Ayyash et al. case.
The charges follow an investigation into three events by an amicus curiae, Stéphane Bourgon, who was appointed by the Registrar on the request of the Contempt Judge, David Baragwanath. Following reports by the amicus, Judge Baragwanath concluded that there was prima facie evidence in two of these events that justify proceedings for contempt. The investigation continues in the third.
New TV S.A.L. and Karma Mohamed Tahsin al Khayat are charged with:
· knowingly and wilfully interfering with the administration of justice by broadcasting and/or publishing information on purported confidential witnesses.
· knowingly and wilfully interfering with the administration of justice by failing to remove from Al Jadeed TV's website and Al Jadeed TV's YouTube channel information on purported confidential witnesses.
Akhbar Beirut S.A.L. and Ibrahim Mohamed Al Amin are charged with:
· knowingly and wilfully interfering with the administration of justice by publishing information on purported confidential witnesses in the Ayyash et al. case.
In his decision the Contempt Judge clarified that publishing purported names of witnesses may amount to interference with the administration of justice, because it reduces the confidence of both actual witnesses and the public, in the ability and the will of the Tribunal to protect its witnesses.
Judge Baragwanath has now recused himself from the case and Judge Nicola Lettieri will hear the case. A new amicus curiae will prosecute the Accused (please see press release 'STL Appoints New Amicus Curiae').
In his decision Judge Baragwanath wrote about the vital principles of freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, and the proper administration of justice. Judge Baragwanath stressed that the importance of the press "as the eyes, ears and voice of the community is at its highest when confronted with the power of public decision-makers, such as judges". However the decision went on to stress that like judges, and the rest of the community, the media must comply with the law. "Nothing is more fundamental to the rule of law than that there must be no deliberate interference with the administration of justice". This "leaves intact the ability of the press otherwise to comment on the Tribunal's work, including criticising it".
The accused may choose whether to appear at the court in person or by video-link. The initial appearances of the accused are scheduled for 13 May 2014.
Notes to editors
An amicus curiae is an independent party who appears in court or otherwise provides their legal opinion on matters or legal issues in order to assist the court in its deliberations.
Prima facie means "on the face of it". In this context it is (a relatively low) evidentiary standard that a Prosecutor (here the amicus curiae) must meet to satisfy a court that an accused has a case to answer in a criminal proceeding.
Recuse means to withdraw from an act of judging due to a potential conflict of interest.