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Special Tribunal for Lebanon finds journalist guilty of contempt

Journalist Karma Khayat is facing a possible seven-year jail sentence or fine of 100,000 euros, or both. The tribunal is scheduled to pass sentence on 28 September. Khayat plans to appeal.

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 22 September 2015.

Reporters Without Borders condemns a decision by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in The Hague to find Al-Jadeed TV journalist Karma Khayat guilty of contempt of court and obstructing justice, and calls for her conviction to be overturned.

In its 18 September verdict, the STL acquitted Al Jadeed of corporate responsibility. It also acquitted both the journalist and the station on a separate charge of endangering supposedly confidential witnesses by filming them for a series of reports broadcast from 6 to 10 August 2012. The trial began in April.

The STL, which is investigating Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's 2005 assassination, convicted Khayat on the contempt charge for failing to comply with orders to remove the reports from the station's website and YouTube page after they had been broadcast.

Al-Jadeed's deputy news editor and vice-president of its board, Khayat is facing a possible seven years jail sentence or fine of 100,000 euros, or both. The tribunal is scheduled to pass sentence on 28 September. Khayat plans to appeal.

According to Khayat, the reports just aimed to highlight the leak of confidential information from the STL and did not expose witnesses, who were readily available to the media.

“Karma Khayat should have been acquitted,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Middle East and Maghreb desk. “The conviction is absurd because it's not the broadcasting of reports that is being punished, it's the failure to take down content that had already been broadcast.

“Khayat was doing her job by investigating and informing the public about an issue of national importance. She did not obstruct the STL's work. We therefore invite the STL to reverse this decision because the penalty she is facing is not proportionate to the objective pursued.”

The outcome of the trial is decisive for journalism in Lebanon as it could set a precedent for restricting the right to information. When Al Jadeed received the STL's request to stop broadcasting the reports, it referred the request to Lebanon's National Council for Broadcasting, which said they did not violate Lebanon's laws.

No evidence was produced to support claims that the reports endangered witnesses or undermined public confidence in the STL.

STL spokesman Wajed Ramadan told Reporters Without Borders that the judge determined that Khayad had been notified of the tribunal's request by various channels and could therefore have withdrawn the reports but instead “deliberately” chose to ignore the request. The reports were posted on the TV station's website and on YouTube and remained online at least until 2 October 2013.

Reporters Without Borders submitted an amicus brief on the Khayat case to the STL when a preliminary hearing was held on 13 May 2014.

Set up by the United Nations at Lebanon's request, the STL is the first international tribunal to be created to investigate and try a specific act of terrorist violence (the Hariri assassination).

Lebanon is ranked 98th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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