Jun 22, 2016

Closing arguments in second contempt of court case against journalists

On 13 May closing argument were presented in the contempt of court case against the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar Beirut and its editor-in-chief Ibrahim Al Amin.

The Amicus Curiae Prosecutor Mr Scott summarised its case: Al-Akbhar and Ibrahim Al Amin intentionally and willfully interfered with the administration of justice by their extreme and irresponsible conduct, that is disclosing the identity of alleged confidential witnesses. Mr Scott repeated that the case is not an attack on free speech or the entire Lebanese media (for criticising the tribunal), but directed against this specific criminal behaviour of the accused.

[screenshot of the court room during contempt proceedings - 1 March 2016]

The Prosecutor further explained that according to the law it does not need to prove any actual harm or interference, but only the objective likelihood that this will occur. The Prosecutor argued that the contempt judge has excluded evidence on the basis of narrow common law considerations whilst other international tribunals have taken a more liberal approach. According to him, the evidence must be considered as a whole and in a holistic evaluation, and hearsay evidence should be taken in consideration.

Conclusively, the Prosecutor stated that the press publications by the accused did create an objective likelihood that public confidence in the administration of justice by this Tribunal would be undermined; the evidence presented by the Prosecution, including the testimony of Dr Brouwer, shows this. The accused knew the effect of these disclosures, and the undermining of public confidence actually was the purpose of the publications.

Mr Abou Kasm, lead counsel for the Defence, started his closing speech by arguing that the Prosecution is trying to turn the case into a political trial; by linking the accused to Hezbollah, and by claiming that Hezbollah is an alleged source of threat to witnesses at the tribunal. The Defence denies any links between Al-Akhbar and Hezbollah. Further, the Defence stated that the situation in Lebanon is stable and save, contrary to the claims made by the Prosecution about the unstable security situation in which the names of the witnesses were disclosed. The Prosecution failed to prove the mens rea and actus rea of the accused; also it did not establish any suffered harm or the undermining of public confidence. Mr Kasm concluded that the Prosecutor failed to prove that Al-Akhbar or Mr Al Amin intended to obstruct the course of justice or that these publications undermined the public confidence in the ability of the Tribunal to keep its information confidential; therefore there should be an acquittal for both accused.

The case is now closed and awaiting judgment.

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