May 3, 2016

The Defence presents its witnesses in contempt case against journalist and newspaper

On 7 and 8 April the Defence for the Lebanese newspaper Akhbar Beirut and its editor-in-chief Ibrahim Al Amin presented its case.

The first witness called by the Defence was Mr Najib El-Kharrat. Newspaper Akhbar published personal information about this witness, including his picture, alleging that he was a Prosecution witness. The witness stated in court that the publication of the article did not have any effect on his professional or personal life. Further, the witness continued to have trust in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), and claimed that no confidential information was disclosed. The cross-examination by the Prosecution was held in private session.

The second witness to appear was Mr Mahmoud Assi, another person who was discussed in an article in Akhbar newspaper. The article included his name and picture, and cited him as one of the Prosecution witnesses. Mr Assi was surprised by the article and contacted Akhbar newspaper. He met with the accused Mr Al Amin and a clarification submitted by the witness was subsequently published. The witness was not worried or afraid after the article was published, and he was not subject to any threat or harassment. His life was not affected because of the article, although some people were asking about his role in the case before the STL. Mr Assi works for a Lebanese insurance company, and goes to car accident sites as a court expert. He has testified in the main case, because one of the accused before the STL had called him to attend an accident location. The Prosecution established in cross-examination that his testimony was limited and technical, and not a direct issue for the Hariri case, thus suggesting that for this reason the impact of the article was limited.

Mr Elias Aoun was the third and last witness for the Defence. He is the President of the Order of the Lebanese Press Editors, an association acting on behalf of, and regulating, journalists. He was called to give evidence as an expert on freedom of press in Lebanon. He has written a report on the situation in Lebanon as to the press, freedom of press (also in relation to confidentiality of investigations), the obligations and norms governing the work of journalists, and journalism. The witness avoids answering most of the questions put to him. Instead he is making general comments about the prosecution of Lebanese journalists before the STL; in his view the accused should have been brought before a Lebanese court. The witness also holds the opinion that the STL has been selective in deciding not to prosecute journalists from other countries, and should instead focus on its main case concerning the bombing that killed Hariri and others.

The closing arguments by the parties in this second contempt case are scheduled to take place on 13 May. 

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