Al-Jadeed TV head fined $11,200 for disclosing information on protected witnesses

Published September 29th, 2015 - 08:01 GMT

Karma Khayat, deputy head of news and political programs at Al-Jadeed TV, was ordered to pay 10,000 euros ($11,200) by Contempt Judge Nicola Lettieri at a sentencing hearing of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Monday, 10 days after she was found guilty on one count of contempt of court. “The sentence today is a sentence against the Tribunal itself, not against us,” Khayat told The Daily Star after the hearing. “It is the Tribunal itself — the one who issued the indictment against us — who was obstructing our work, obstructing the freedom of the press, and obstructing justice.”

The sentence was substantially lighter than the 100,000 euros fine and one-year imprisonment sought by the amicus prosecutor.

The charge stems from the 2012 broadcast of a television series, “Witnesses of the Special Tribunal,” which the court found had disclosed information allowing a number of protected witnesses to be identified. Khayat and Al-Jadeed TV were each indicted on two counts of contempt in January 2014.

In a Sept. 18 judgment, Lettieri acquitted Khayat and her employer on three of the four charges, finding that the prosecutor had “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.” The tribunal is charged with prosecuting the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, killed along with 21 others in Beirut car bombing on Feb. 14, 2005. Many witnesses have been granted protective measures by the court.

Khayat was found guilty on one count of contempt for failing to abide by a court order requesting the removal of the episodes from Al-Jadeed’s website, which the judge determined she had intentionally ignored. Khayat maintains that she never received the order, and alleges that the indictments were an attempt to stifle criticism of the court.

“We specifically were stating in the broadcast that there are once again leaks from inside the Tribunal, in which the witnesses are being leaked,” Khayat said. “This is an attack on the freedom of the press. They should go after the actual source of the leak. I didn’t see any internal investigation at the Tribunal.”

At the sentencing hearing, amicus prosecutor Slobodan Zecevic and defense counselor Karim Khan presented starkly different portraits of both the seriousness of the charges and Khayat’s cooperation with the investigation. “The accused showed reckless disregard for the safety of the witnesses,” Zecevic said. He contended Khayat “showed no regret or remorse,” and that the information she provided in an interview with investigators “did not rise to the level of substantial cooperation.”

Khan, who represented Al-Jadeed and Khayat in the case, called his client “an example of cooperation with international justice.”

Following the sentence, Khan said it was apparent that the judge had dismissed any notion that Khayat had committed a serious offense.

“One thing was crystal clear, that the judge absolutely rejected in unequivocal terms the prosecutor’s characterization of the case as being among the most serious, being a case of extreme gravity,” Khan told The Daily Star.

He characterized the fine and Lettieri’s decision not to order incarceration as recognition that the charges brought by the amicus prosecutor were largely unsubstantiated.

“The heart of the prosecution’s case fell away a couple of weeks ago when three of the four counts resulted in acquittals.” He said the remaining charge was “little more than a technical breach,” a view he contended was supported by the sentence.

Lettieri ordered the fine to be paid in full by Oct. 30, but both sides have the right to appeal both the original judgment and Monday’s sentence.

“We think that all along it’s a case that shouldn’t have been brought, and that the prosecutor made a storm in a teacup about nothing,” Khan said. “A storm in a teacup.”

By Ned Whalley

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