PARIS — An international tribunal that has spent five years and more than $325,000 investigating a political assassination in Lebanon without making a single arrest finally got its first look today at an accused in the dock. But it was none of the five men charged with complicity in the 2005 murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.
Rather, it was the unlikely figure of a female television executive from Beirut.
The executive, Karma al-Khayat, the 31-year old vice chairwoman of Al Jadeed TV, had been summoned to appear at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on the outskirts of The Hague to answer charges of contempt of court and obstruction of justice.
An indictment accused Khayat and the parent company of Al Jadeed, New TV, of being criminally accountable for broadcasts that involved contacting possible court witnesses and disclosing confidential information about them in 2012. It also accused them of ignoring a subsequent court order to remove the material from the company’s website.
Al Jadeed broadcasts had shown blurred faces and did not disclose the names of people who it said had talked with court investigators. But the indictment contended that any discussion of confidential witnesses was a serious violation that would not only put people at risk but also hinder the tribunal’s functioning.
Khayat was aware that the exposés “would undermine public confidence in the tribunal’s ability to protect the confidentiality of information,” the indictment said.
The court has declined to say whether the disclosures in the news media involved significant witnesses or whether anyone withdrew testimony as a result. But Khayat and Al Jadeed have said that they are not guilty of contempt and that they will fight the charges as an issue of freedom of the press.
Flanked by a team of lawyers today, Khayat told the court that it was a fundamental right of journalists to investigate the work of the tribunal and the “secrets” that were said to have leaked from it.