A Lebanese journalist pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges of contempt for publishing witness details at a tribunal set up to try the killers of slain former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
“Our only crime is that we respected the highest standards of our profession and we highlighted some of the misconducts of this court,” Karma al-Khayat, deputy editor in chief of Al-Jadeed TV, told an initial hearing at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in The Netherlands.
Khayat and the station’s parent company New TV S.A.L. have been charged with two counts of contempt and obstruction of justice for publishing details of alleged witnesses in the trial of five members of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah for Hariri’s 2005 slaying.
The pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper and its editor in chief Ibrahim Mohamed al-Amin have been charged with one count of contempt and obstruction of justice.
Amin’s initial hearing it to be held on May 29 but he has not yet said whether he will attend.
They are accused of “knowingly and wilfully interfering with the administration of justice by broadcasting and/or publishing information on purported confidential witnesses”.
In April 2013, a list of 167 names of so-called witnesses for the Hariri trial was published by a previously unknown group identified as “Journalists for the Truth”.
The group said it wanted to “unveil the corruption” of the STL.
Both Al-Akhbar and Al-Jadeed published the list.
“I came here today to this court of law because I did not want the press to be deprived of a fundamental right under the title of justice,” Khayat told the court, according to a translation from Arabic.
STL spokesman Marten Youssef said the court was “required to act… to ensure that there is no intimidation of witnesses.”
“The Lebanese press has made it seem that it is an attempt to silence them. This is not the case at all,” Youssef added.
The STL, established by the UN Security Council at the request of Lebanon, is trying the five Hezbollah members in absentia for the attack that killed Hariri and 22 others on February 14, 2005, in Beirut.
Hezbollah accuses the court of being part of an “Israeli-US” plot, and has yet to hand over the suspects.
The murder trial opened in a suburb outside The Hague in January, while the contempt trial will be held after motions have been handled, including about the tribunal’s jurisdiction.