Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Middle East: Palestinian journalist charged, TV station seeks justice following raid

Source: IFEX 

Based on IFEX member reports from International Press Institute , Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA

(IFEX) - Palestinian columnist Jihad Harb faces possible criminal charges of libel and slander for an article he wrote in August questioning hiring practices in the office of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

Harb was summoned on 31 October 2012 for interrogation by the Head of Public Prosecutions regarding the article said to have insulted the office of the President.

The International Press Institute's (IPI) press freedom manager Barbara Trionfi said, “Reports that Jihad Harb has been interrogated and now faces possible prosecution for raising questions about official corruption are deeply worrying, and even more so because Harb was simply referencing the work of a transparency watchdog. Media play an integral role in informing the public and questioning government practices. Harb's article, which summarized the findings of an NGO and added comment, appears to have done exactly that.”

While Harb was being interrogated, the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), along with a number of journalists and human rights activists, protested in front of the public prosecution office in Ramallah in solidarity.

MADA condemned the proceedings and demanded an end to Harb's prosecution which it stated is “a kind of indirect punishment to suppress freedom of expression through creating an atmosphere of fear among writers, journalists and citizens in general.”

In defence of his piece, Harb told The Daily Beast, “the article does not contain any slander or defamation or contempt of the Palestinian Authority, and what I wrote was based on information and facts.”

Harb's article was published in a number of Palestinian news sites including the website of Watan TV, a Palestinian TV station that was the target of an attack by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in February 2012.

Watan TV has since turned to the Israeli High Court for justice months after the IDF stormed the station's headquarters in Ramallah, a city fully under the governance of the Palestinian Authority. The IDF confiscated a significant part of the station's broadcast equipment, effectively preventing the regular functioning of the station and forcing them to operate at a minimal level.

Ola Abu Gharbia, a projects officer at Watan TV, told MADA, "They confiscated a total of 21 computers from various sections of the TV headquarters, a transmitter and a device used for live broadcasts from the field, as well as a number of files and TV cassettes, and all TV accounts for the year 2011."

According to IPI, the Israeli High Court has given the IDF until 14 November to respond to Watan TV's petition seeking the restitution of the confiscated equipment.

As IPI reported, the IDF had defended the February raid on the grounds that Watan TV was “broadcasting illegally”.

“The IDF's unwillingness to provide reasonable explanations for the raids it carried out on media houses this year has been disappointing and unacceptable. The IDF should provide a transparent response to the High Court's request and we look forward to a decision by the Court that will uphold the rights of Palestinian media,” said Trionfi, IPI's press freedom manager.