The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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September 19, 2015

The Daily Star - STL finds Al-Jadeed journalist Karma al-Khayat guilty of contempt, September 19, 2015

Ned Whalley

Karma Khayat, deputy head of news and political programs at Al-Jadeed TV, was found guilty of contempt of court for knowingly and willfully interfering with the administration of justice, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon ruled Friday. Khayat and her employer were charged with obstruction of justice and contempt of court for the broadcast and continued dissemination of a 2012 television series entitled “Witnesses of the Special Tribunal.” The charges, filed in January 2014, stemmed from the alleged disclosure of the identities of secret witnesses.

Khayat was acquitted on a more serious charge of undermining public confidence in the Tribunal’s ability to protect the confidentiality of witnesses, one that had never before been brought in an international court.

According to Contempt Judge Nicola Lettieri, it was also the first time “in the history of international criminal justice in which a legal person is accused of a crime,” referring to the charges against Al-Jadeed, which was acquitted on both counts. Both Khayat and Al-Jadeed had pleaded not guilty.

The Tribunal is charged with prosecuting those responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed along with 21 others in a massive car bombing on Valentine’s Day 2005. The court is trying five members of Hezbollah in absentia for their alleged involvement in the attack.

Khayat told The Daily Star that she regards the verdict as a validation of the station’s work, and said the decision to uphold the single charge against her is nothing more than an attempt to save face.

“The problem is in the Tribunal itself ... they kept one count against me and I believe this is to protect the image of the Tribunal – that it did not waste Al-Jadeed’s and my time for two years on a case, on a false case, that [they] had no actual grounds to pursue.”

She said the decision would not influence the station’s coverage.

“I can assure you that their efforts were to affect our reporting, to stop us, but I can assure you that it did not work. I can say on behalf of Al-Jadeed that we have no intention to stop reporting.

“If there is an investigative report that once again shows the mistakes of the Tribunal, we will surely and definitely air it, run it, [maintaining] the highest professional standards of journalism and investigative journalism.”

Karim Khan QC, who defended Khayat and Al-Jadeed in the proceedings, said he was encouraged by the judge’s findings.

“I am delighted that the Al-Jadeed television station has been completely acquitted, of both of the charges that were leveled against it,” Khan told The Daily Star.

“For Karma Khayat, again, the big news and the important news really is that she was acquitted of the most serious charge – of intentionally undermining confidence in the Tribunal. That was a charge that she and Al-Jadeed continuously denied; she said there was no hostile animus in that program.

“The program was to the benefit of the people of Lebanon and the region, and it was really a function of the media’s duty to speak truth to power and highlight what were perceived as leaks and inadequacies in what was taking place in the STL.”

The STL has been criticized for pursuing the case, accused of overstepping its mandate and attempting to stifle press freedoms and criticisms of the court. It has also been faulted for singling out Lebanese media outlets but ignoring similar disclosures by Western journalists. The STL has filed similar charges against the parent company of Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar and its editor-in-chief Ibrahim Al-Amin.

Khayat maintained throughout the trial that the purpose of the programming was to hold the STL accountable. “Our main aim was so [to show] now, once again, there are leaks from the tribunal,” she told The Daily Star.

“It’s a court that the Lebanese pay money to continue ... So it’s our job – anything that has to do with the public – it’s our job to reveal the mistakes.”

The Lebanese government pays 49 percent of the Tribunal’s annual budget. Last year its contribution totaled $36 million.

“We blurred their faces and we covered their names,” Khayat continued. “The whole point was just to say these people are actually witnesses in the Tribunal and that we’ve confirmed they’re witnesses. This means once again that there are leaks at the Tribunal.”

But in his oral summary of the judgment, Judge Lettieri said that other information disclosed in the programming allowed for three of the witnesses to be identified, and that individuals who gave evidence in the proceedings had expressed fear and concern following the airing of the episodes.

Despite this, he concluded that these fears had not been conclusively linked with the programming, and that it was not clear that their broadcast had affected public perception.

“Having reviewed the entirety of the evidence, which also includes expert and documentary evidence, I find that the amicus has not proved that the airing of the episodes was objectively likely to undermine the public’s confidence in the Tribunal’s ability to protect confidential information,” Lettieri said in his summary.

The second, lesser charge, of which Khayat was found guilty, concerned her failure to comply with a cease-and-desist order from the STL demanding the removal of the offending episodes from Al-Jadeed’s website. She has maintained that she did not receive it. Khan asserted at trial that there was no evidence that she had received or opened the order, and of the numerous ways it could have been properly served, none were pursued.

But Lettieri stated that he believed that the order, purportedly sent by Anthony Lodge, head of registry and resident representative at the Tribunal’s Beirut office, had been purposefully ignored, citing Khayat’s correspondence with the court from the same email address just days earlier.

“I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Ms. Khayat received Mr. Lodge’s email attaching the order ... I find that Ms. Khayat chose to disregard Mr. Lodge’s email in order to be able to deny knowledge of its content. Since Ms. Khayat had the ability to remove the episodes from Al-Jadeed TV’s website and was willfully blind to the order, I conclude that she deliberately violated it.”

The judge has scheduled the sentencing hearing for Sept. 28. In his closing remarks, Prosecutor Kenneth Scott requested that Khayat face a maximum of two years imprisonment, and a 200,000 euros ($226,700) fine, but his recommendation concerned both charges against her. After sentencing, both parties have 15 days to appeal.

Khan said he anticipated that there would likely be appeals, either by the defense or the prosecution, but that final decisions would not be made until after the sentence was passed down.

“The important thing is this: In all parts of the world the press is under attack,” Khan said, citing threats to journalism from extremist groups such as ISIS.

“There is a need for there to be a robust and free press, speaking truth to power ... that’s necessary in all countries, particularly developing countries, but all over the world.”

Khayat deferred to her lawyers on the future of the case, but was defiant in defense of the reporting which precipitated it.

“In our country, whenever there are mistakes, whenever there is fraud, whenever there is corruption, this is our job as journalists. And as pioneers in investigative journalism in Lebanon, it’s our job to fulfill our duties and conclude such reports. So we will proceed in doing it.”

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