BEIRUT: Al-Akhbar editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin will be sentenced by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Monday at 4 p.m., convicted of interfering with the administration of justice by revealing the identities of purported confidential witnesses. The sentencing hearing will be the court’s first action after returning from a monthlong summer judicial recess. Proceedings in the main case will resume Tuesday.
Amin and Al-Akhbar were found guilty on contempt charges related to undermining public confidence in the courts ability to protect witnesses July 15. The charges stem from the paper’s publication of a list of alleged secret witnesses in January 2013.
According to the court’s guidelines, the maximum sentence for contempt is seven years imprisonment or a fine of up 100,000 euros. Al-Jadeed television journalist Karma al-Khayat was fined 10,000 euros after being found guilty of contempt in a similar case, but an appeals panel overturned her conviction in March. Amin’s sentence, and judgment, can be appealed by either party. Given the success of Khayat’s petition, there is a reasonable probability an appeal will be filed.
Prosecutors have argued that Amin’s disclosure was more egregious than Khayat’s, stating that he pursued a premeditated campaign of intimidation in order to frighten potential witnesses out of testifying. The court is trying four purported members of Hezbollah for the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Amin is an outspoken proponent of the powerful Shiite organization, and has criticized the tribunal since its inception.
Both parties will have a chance to speak before Contempt Judge Nicola Lettieri issues the sentence. Lettieri has invited Amin to attend Monday’s hearing, but it would a significant surprise if he appeared. To this point, Amin has been represented by a court-appointed Lebanese lawyer, Antonios Abou Kasm, and has had limited communication with the court since a brief pretrial appearance via video conference, in which he condemned the tribunal as a Western conspiracy to incriminate Hezbollah, announced his intention to remain silent, and declared that he did not recognize the court’s authority.
Throughout the proceedings prosecutors have asked that the court summon Amin to attend or issue a warrant for his arrest. Lettieri has declined to do so, but a sentence which includes jail time could prove a significant problem for the court. Lebanese authorities present monthly reports to the tribunal on their progress apprehending the defendants in the assassination trial, but there is significant doubt they will ever be able to do so. The arrest of Amin or the imposition of a court-mandated sentence would be a controversial first.
Only one of the principal defendants has ever reappeared in the public eye. Senior Hezbollah operative Mustafa Badreddine was spotted at his nephew’s funeral in January 2015. His own death in May this year threw the tribunal into chaos.
Hezbollah announced that Badreddine was killed near the Damascus airport by rebel artillery fire, but the exact circumstances of his death remain unclear. Initial reports referenced an airstrike. The physical evidence need to establish his death could only be procured from Hezbollah, which refuses to cooperate with the court. The tribunal was briefly forced to adjourn until more information became available.
Despite a very public funeral in Beirut’s southern suburbs, with condolences from high-ranking religious officials and foreign delegations, the court determined there was insufficient evidence that Badreddine had been killed.
The requisite standard for such a determination under international law is not entirely clear. Investigators at the International Criminal Court investigators have gone as far as exhuming the bodies of alleged war criminals in Uganda.
The court’s finding provoked significant discord. At one point lawyers representing the interests of Badreddine indicated that believing their client to be dead, they were considering requesting removal from the case due to ethical reservations.
The finding was appealed, and on July 11 the appeals chamber issued a majority opinion stating that death had been sufficiently proven and directing the trial chamber to terminate proceedings against Badreddine. Prosecutors subsequently issued an amended indictment removing him from the list of defendants, though he is still referenced as an alleged co-conspirator.
The prosecution is now late into the second phase of its case, presenting evidencing and soliciting testimony on the preparations for the crime. The witness list for the upcoming week has not yet been published, but prosecutors have spent much of the year hearing evidence on the telecommunications data that forms the bedrock of their case.
Experts from touch and alfa, Lebanon’s two cellular providers, have both concluded their substantial testimonies. A number of experts and investigators have appeared to give evidence on the covert cellular networks on which the assassination was allegedly plotted. It is likely that more of this evidence will be heard in the coming week.
The third and last component of the prosecution’s evidence has yet to begin, during which they will try to prove the roles and the identities of the defendants in the crime, and definitively establish their guilt.
Source & link : The Daily Star