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 24, 2015

The Daily Star - STL reiterates seriousness of charge against Khayat, September 24, 2015

Ned Whalley

Wajed Ramadan, spokesperson for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, reiterated the seriousness of the charge upheld against Al-Jadeed journalist Karma Khayat Wednesday, but said the press had an important role in the dissemination of information about the trial. “It’s not a lesser charge – that’s also a confusion. Both counts are accusations of contempt. There’s no lesser charge,” Ramadan told The Daily Star in an interview. “It’s just the second [charge] and she was found guilty ... Now we have to wait for the sentence.”

Khayat, deputy head of news and political programs at Al-Jadeed TV, was found guilty last Friday of contempt of court for failing to remove episodes of “Witnesses of the Special Tribunal” from the network’s website, a series found by the court to have disclosed information on the identities of secret witnesses.

She contended that the court’s decision to uphold the single count against her was an attempt to save face. Khayat’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Sept. 28.

Karim Khan QC, who defended Khayat and Al-Jadeed TV in the contempt case, had downplayed the gravity of the count last week.

“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,” Khan told The Daily Star.

“As for expectations [of the sentence], it’s really up to the judge,” said Ramadan. “At the session on the 28th he will listen to the arguments ... and all the submissions that will be made regarding the sentence, both by the defense and by the amicus prosecutor, and he will make his decision that same day.”

She confirmed that both the sentence and the judgment could be subject to appeal by either side. The result of the appeal would represent a final decision.

The STL has faced widespread criticism for bringing the case against Khayat and Al-Jadeed, and has been accused of attacking press freedom and singling out local outlets. Similar charges have been filed against Ibrahim Al-Amin, the editor-in-chief of pro-Hezbollah daily Al-Akhbar, and his employer. But Ramadan emphasized the tribunal’s reliance on the press to make proceedings accessible and comprehensible to the very public the court is designed to serve.

“We are aware that the proceedings are very complex – even for us to understand. We are aware that they may be very technical,” Ramadan said. The prosecution’s case against the accused relies heavily on sophisticated analysis of telecommunications data.

“In my view [journalists] are the mediator between the tribunal and the people who will in fact benefit from the court’s outcome,” Ramadan said.

The reliance on circumstantial evidence itself has drawn criticism, but Ramadan pointed to the high burden of proof for the prosecution – that it must provide sufficient evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, to demonstrate guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

She said the court’s public information section does everything it can to make the proceedings available and provide access. But she said that misperceptions about the role of the court and its mission remain.

The tribunal was set up by an agreement between the United Nations and the government of Lebanon, but has been controversial in the country from the outset. Hezbollah and its allies brought down the Cabinet of Saad Hariri in January 2011 after it refused to cut ties with the court. Five members of the powerful Shiite group are being tried in absentia by the court for their alleged role in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Valentine’s Day 2005.

Ramadan said Lebanon was cooperating with the STL. “Lebanon has the obligation to cooperate with the tribunal, and to date the tribunal and the Lebanese government have enjoyed very good cooperation,” she said. “The Lebanese government every month produces a report about their efforts to apprehend the accused, and this is what they are requested to do actually – to make all possible and reasonable efforts to apprehend the accused and they are making reports in that regard every month.”

The tribunal has also come under fire for its cost. The government funds 49 percent of its budget, which last year totaled $36 million. Ramadan said the unique nature of the proceedings was inherently expensive. “It’s not a national court. It’s not within an existing infrastructure.

“It also has international staff members, and all of the logistics that are in place for the trial. All of this of course has a price,” she said. The prosecution has presented 83 witnesses so far, and is expected to hear evidence from more than three hundred more before it concludes its case.

“The way we see it, Lebanon has requested the establishment of the tribunal ... because they want to see justice. And that is our mandate. We did not decide [to create] the tribunal, the tribunal was created by a political decision. And now that we exist we have a mandate to fulfill.”

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