BEIRUT: The Lebanese government Thursday transferred $36 million to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, its annual budget contribution, as the Hague-based court moved forward with the controversial trials of local journalists.
“I welcome Lebanon’s contribution and I thank the Lebanese government for fulfilling its international obligation to fund the tribunal,” STL Registrar Daryl Mundis said in a statement confirming the transfer of the funds.
The payment, which constitutes 49 percent of the U.N.-backed tribunal’s budget, is the first one by the government of Prime Minister Tammam Salam and comes despite the fact that Hezbollah and its allies are part of the Cabinet.
Hezbollah strongly opposes the court, which has indicted five members of the party in connection with the 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others. Their trial in absentia is ongoing.
The funding was also approved despite Lebanon’s financial troubles, as the country’s economy reels from the impact of a massive refugee influx from Syria and ongoing security problems.
The court’s announcement came hours after a judge at the STL ruled that it has the authority to prosecute the top editor of newspaper Al-Akhbar, paving the way for the second trial of a Lebanese journalist.
Contempt Judge Nicola Lettieri said in his decision that the tribunal had the jurisdiction to prosecute Ibrahim al-Amin, Al-Akhbar’s editor-in-chief, but does not have the power to prosecute the newspaper’s parent company, Al-Akhbar S.A.L. Amin and the company were both accused of contempt of court and obstruction of justice because they allegedly published the personal information of confidential witnesses who were set to testify before the court.
Earlier this week, Judge Lettieri said the trial of Al-Jadeed TV’s parent company and the channel’s deputy head of news Karma al-Khayyat, over similar allegations, would begin in the spring.
Lebanese civil society and politicians have expressed their opposition to the cases, saying they would have a chilling effect on freedom of the press in Lebanon and urged the court to focus on its core mandate of finding Hariri’s killers.
They also criticize the court for failing to prosecute Western news outlets that disclosed sensitive Hariri investigation details.
The STL says the prosecution is necessary to protect witnesses from intimidation and maintain public confidence in the court’s work.