The Australian film crew facing a potentially lengthy prison sentence in Lebanon should “grovel” before a Beirut court, experts say.
They say that and an unreserved apology will offer them the best chance of walking away from a situation that has gone from bad to worse.
Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner is expected later today to front the Babda Palace of Justice in Mt Lebanon alongside 60 Minutes reporter Tara Brown, senior producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment.
Clockwise from top left: Tara Brown, Ben Williamson, Stephen Rice and David Ballment.
The five are among nine people to have been charged over a botched attempt to recover Ms Faulkner’s two children from their father in the southern Beirut suburb of Hadath.
“What I’d say is that a distinction is likely to be made between Sally Faulkner and the other parties involved, including the child recovery team,” he told news.com.au.Donald Rothwell, professor of International Law at the Australian National University, said acknowledging wrongdoing was a must.
“There’s some prospect that Sally might have her charges downgraded to a misdemeanour but the people from 60 Minutes and the child recovery service at face value seem to have been engaged in a commercial operation to abduct children and there appears to have been some act of violence involved.
“The Lebanese authorities would take a dim view of foreigners seeking to take Lebanese nationals in the way that apparently has occurred. Any effort to acknowledge they were in the wrong would be beneficial.”
Sally Faulkner with her children Lahela aged 6 years (centre) and Noah aged 4 years. Photo / Supplied
He said the best and worst case scenario for Brown and her team was likely consistent with a report in Lebanese news service the Daily Star.
The newspaper reported the charges could lead to 20 years’ jail time for those involved.
“I’m not an expert in Lebanese law but they could be looking at a period of 2-20 years,” Prof Rothwell said.
Former senior Australian diplomat Bruce Haigh said Lebanon would be receptive to a full apology.
“You need to grovel,” Mr Haigh told AM.
“You need to go and make an abject apology to the Lebanese Government and you need to say, ‘Look, we made a huge error, a bad error of judgment and we really apologise for what’s occurred’.
“Nothing short of that will get these people out.”
Ibrahim Traboulsi, professor of Law at Saint Joseph University in Beirut, told Radio National what the Australians had done “left a very bad impression” within Lebanon.
The fate of Ms Faulkner and the 60 Minutes crew could be decided today during what is expected to be the first full day hearing before Judge Rami Abdullah.
Prof Rothwell said the Lebanese judicial system was based on the European system and was “inquisitorial”, meaning the court was actively involved in the investigation, assisted by prosecutors.
“The judge takes quite a prominent role in questioning the suspects and seeking to learn the truth,” he said.
“Matters are often held in closed court initially but later there might be a more public showing.”
All the accused on Tuesday declared they wanted a lawyer and each spent five minutes before the judge. Ms Faulkner spent longer answering questions.
Brown and one of her crew were handcuffed together and led away by uniformed officers after giving evidence. When asked by News Corp Australia how she was coping, Brown replied: “It’s fine, thank you.”
The Australians are being held at the Baabda Detention Centre in Beirut awaiting direction from Judge Abdullah.