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Lebanon: Special Tribunal Indicts Journalists and Media Organizations for Contempt

(May 6, 2014) On April 24, 2014, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a hybrid international/domestic court, charged two journalists and their respective media organizations, a TV station and a print newspaper, with two counts of contempt and obstruction of justice. The charges allege that the accused knowingly and willfully interfered with the administration of justice by broadcasting and publishing online and in print information on purported confidential witnesses. (Special Tribunal for Lebanon Issues Summons to Appear in Contempt Cases, Tribunal website (Apr. 24, 2014).)

In the indictment, the Contempt Judge “clarified that publishing purported names of witnesses may amount to interference with the administration of justice, because it reduces the confidence of both actual witnesses and the public, in the ability and the will of the Tribunal to protect its witnesses.” (Id.)

The alleged crime carries a penalty of up to seven years of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to €100,000 (about US$138,700), as prescribed in article 60 bis (J) of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence adopted by the Tribunal. (Rules of Procedure and Evidence (adopted Mar. 20, 2009, as amended through Apr. 9, 2013, corrected Apr. 3, 2014), Tribunal website.)

The indictment may raise several legal questions, including the Tribunal’s powers in relation to legislating for and penalizing contempt under the agreement that established the Tribunal. (UN Security Council Resolution 1757 (May 30, 2007) & Agreement Between the United Nations and the Lebanese Republic on the Establishment of a Special Tribunal for Lebanon (annexed to the Resolution).) The Criminal Code of Lebanon also includes different contempt offenses with lesser penalties. (Criminal Code of Lebanon (as last amended 1996) [in Arabic], Madkour Law Firm website.)