Attorneys at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon asked for an arrest warrant to be issued for Al-Akhbar Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim al-Amin if he continues his refusal to appear before the court.
“It’s the position of the Amicus that a summons should be issued to Mr. Al-Amin ... he should be required to appear,” said Amicus Curae Prosecutor Kenneth Scott Friday. “If the summons should not be sufficient and Mr. Ibrahim should still refuse to appear, the Amicus will ask for an arrest warrant.”
The tribunal had convened for a pre-trial hearing in the contempt case against Amin and his employer. In January 2013, Al-Akbar published the names, passport photographs and workplaces of a number of confidential witnesses scheduled to appear before the court. The tribunal is trying five members of Hezbollah in absentia for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and expressed concern that the disclosure of witnesses could undermine trust in the court, if not endanger the lives of the people identified.
Amin, a staunch critic of the STL, defended the disclosure in a contemporary editorial for the pro-Hezbollah outlet.
“Al-Akhbar cannot be neutral toward something that continues to be used as a pretext to sow divisions between the Lebanese, cause domestic clashes or discredit the resistance,” he wrote.
“The resistance is being made to pay for its victory over the forces of international terror in Israel, Europe and America, and it is they who have been supervising all aspects of the investigations into the Hariri assassination since day one.”
Amin and his employer were subsequently charged with contempt of court for “knowingly and willfully interfering with the administration of justice.” His trial is scheduled to begin on Jan. 28, but a number of filings on the eve of Friday’s hearing have cast that date in doubt.
Scott argued before the court that the trial should be postponed until an appeals panel rules in a similar case against Al-Jadeed journalist Karma al-Khayat, who was convicted on one count of contempt in September. Scott is also prosecuting that case; both he and Khayat have filed appeals.
“A number of fundamental rulings were made in that [Khayat’s] case which virtually control count one in this [Amin’s] case,” Scott said.
“The resolution of these issues on appeal could substantially influence the proceedings and outcome of this case ... They could well be outcome determinative.”
Scott has also filed requests to amend the indictment and his witness list. He lamented their late submission to the court, but said the amendments were justified and relatively minor.
His case was strongly contested by Antonios Abou Kasm, who is representing the rights and interests of the accused. He contended that the Al-Jadeed and Al-Akhbar cases must be considered separately, on their merits, and that prolonging the proceedings any further would be prejudicial to the defendants.
Abou Kasm was appointed by the court in June 2014, following a brief but dramatic appearance by Amin, who appeared via video link from the tribunal’s offices in the Beirut suburb of Monte Verde.
Amin declared that he did not recognize the jurisdiction of the court and would exercise his right to remain silent. He refused to be appointed counsel and departed before the conclusion of the hearing. The following month he requested the dismissal of Contempt Judge Nicolas Lettieri on the basis that he lacked impartiality.
His refusal to appear was the subject of the second half of the Friday’s proceedings, as the court deliberated how to proceed without him. Lettieri previously ruled that self-representation is not possible given Al-Amin’s repeated refusals to interact with the trial.
Abou Kasm argued that as he has no contact with the defendants he is representing, the trial should be reclassified as a trial in absentia.
“My defense is a limited one, despite all the efforts by my team in order to safeguard the rights of the accused ... We consider that such a situation cannot be considered legitimate in the face of justice,” he told the court.
Scott countered that the court should attempt to compel Amin to attend. “This is not and cannot be a trial in absentia, we know where these accused are, we know their identity,” he said.
“He does not recognize this court, he does not recognize its existence, he does not recognize its authority over him,” he said of Amin. But his request for the issuance of a summons, and potentially an arrest warrant, was met with derision by the defense. It is not clear that such an order would be pursued by Lebanese authorities.
“I would like to point out that the Lebanese authorities have the priority right now to arrest terrorists,” Abou Kasm said.
Lettieri asked for written submissions by Tuesday, and said he would issue decisions on the parties’ requests in due course. The tribunal will resume hearing testimony in the Hariri case Monday.