Lebanese paper, editor guilty of contempt: Hariri tribunal

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A special UN court set up to try the killers of ex Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri convicted a Beirut-based newspaper and its editor of contempt Friday for publishing information about confidential witnesses in the case.

"I find both the accused guilty," said Special Tribunal for Lebanon judge Nicola Lettieri referring to Al Akhbar newspaper and its editor in chief Ibrahim al-Amin

A new hearing will be held Monday to discuss sentencing, he said.

Al-Amin and the pro-Hezbollah Al Akhbar newspaper each faced a contempt of court charge after they ran two articles in January 2013 with the names and photographs of 32 witnesses in its Arabic print and online editions.

The articles were entitled "STL Leaks: The Prosecution's Surprise Witnesses" and "The STL Witness List: Why We Published".

Several witnesses afterwards feared for their safety after the information was published, Judge Lettieri said at the hearing held at the court's fortress-like headquarters just outside The Hague.

The witnesses were worried that the information would be widely circulated in print and online, not only as STL witnesses, but also as witnesses "whose testimonies would be used to incriminate Hezbollah," the judge said.

"The tribunal puts in balance the freedom of the press and the need to ensure the integrity of the tribunal's work," said Lettieri.

"But freedom of press cannot be used as an impenetrable shield," he added.

Hariri and 22 others, including a suspected suicide bomber, died in a massive car bomb blast on the Beirut waterfront on February 14, 2005.

Five suspected members of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah were originally indicted by the court and their trial in absentia opened in January 2014 last year. 

However, the court earlier this month quashed the case against one of the accused, Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine, who is believed to have died in May.

The others accused are being tried in absentia.

Earlier this year the STL on appeal acquitted a senior Lebanese television journalist in a similar case involving the alleged publication of witness names in the highly-sensitive trial.

Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah has dismissed the tribunal as a US-Israeli plot, and vowed that none of the men will ever be caught.