Stephen Lendman | 04.26.2012
Abbas Censors Truth
by Stephen Lendman
Israel notoriously censors truth. Military censorship bans or sanitizes material potentially harming Israel's security. Media/government agreements comply.
Some make sense like banning reports beneficial to adversaries. Others don't by suppressing information people have a right to know. For example, whatever affects their welfare and officials' crimes need revealing so everyone knows.
Various Supreme Court decisions also limit content suppression to "tangible (or) near certain" instances of public endangerment. Of course, interpretations are crucial.
Authorities are increasingly hardline to get their way. In the process, fundamental rights are violated perhaps on the way to being entirely destroyed.
Israel prohibits Palestinian protests. Free expression is compromised. Classroom materials are rewritten. Only praise for Israel is allowed. Nakba denial persists. Academia is affected. Historical revisionism legitimizes crimes too important to whitewash.
Palestine Authority Targets Truth
On April 25, Haaretz headlined, "Palestinian Authority blocks news websites critical of Abbas"....saying:
The PA instructed ISPs to block access to critical news websites. There's plenty to criticize Abbas for, especially for being a longtime Israeli collaborator against the interests of his own people. Instead of correcting what's wrong, he wants truth suppressed.
The PA "blocked eight news (sites) operating in the West Bank." They include Amad, Fatah, Fatah Voice, Firas Press, In Light Press, Karama Press, Kofia Press, Milad News, and Palestine Beituna.
The Palestinian communications company Paltel (part owned by the PA) agreed to the move. The sites focus on "internal Palestinian matters...." Earlier, the PA closed a critical TV station.
Attorney General Ahmad Al Mughani ordered the shutdown. He neither confirmed or denied it. Communication Minister Mashur Abu Daqqa said he was involved. "He makes his own rules in order to justify what is only his own decision," he said.
Doing so violates the public interest, he added. In March, Al Mughani ordered a journalist arrested for reporting Palestinian Foreign Ministry corruption.
International Press Institute's Naomi Hunt said the PA had no reason to jail Yousef al-Shayeb while investigating libel and defamation allegations regarding his January Jordanian newspaper story.
According to Hunt, if Foreign Ministry officials feel maligned, they can file civil suits in response. Jailing someone under investigation is out of line.
"If indeed Mr al-Shayeb is facing criminal charges, IPI (International Press Institute) would note that laws criminalizing press offenses are unnecessary given the existence of civil remedies, and serve only to deter investigative reporting."
"Certainly journalists should never be jailed as a result of their work, and should not be compelled to reveal their sources."
"Mr Al-Shayeb and his editors (at al-Ghad) should take responsibility for the story they published, but the imprisonment of Yousef Al-Shayeb is a violation of press freedom and we hope he is released immediately."
Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki defended the arrest. He claimed he and the PA were victims, saying:
"I'm surprised some journalists reacted emotionally on behalf of their colleague without hearing the other side's case, or considering for a moment if Yousef al-Shayeb is the oppressor or the oppressed."
Al-Malki said Al-Shayeb knew his report was false. It claims the foreign minister promoted diplomat Safwat Ibraghit to deputy Paris ambassador despite knowing he has foreign intelligence ties.
Al-Shayeb claimed Ibraghit recruited Arab students to spy on Islamic groups in France and elsewhere abroad. He also said he shared information gotten with Palestinian and foreign intelligence agencies.
Al-Shayeb also accused al-Malaki, Palestinian National Fund Director Ramzi Khouri Abu Nabil, and PA Paris ambassador Hael al-Fahoum of complicity and nepotism in promoting Ibraghit despite foreign intelligence ties and other complaints charged.
He demanded Al-Shayeb apologize. Instead he defended his work. The foreign minister expected journalists to "expel (him) from their ranks. He has harmed the Palestinian media and published (false) reports. He should have been more professional."
Al-Malki filed a $6 million defamation suit under Article 189 of Jordan's Penal Code. According to human rights groups, it's enforceable on the West Bank. It permits libel damages for print media reports.
Al-Shayeb's also charged with defaming government officials. Under article 191, he faces up to two years in prison if convicted. Reports said Al-Ghad fired him.
That type accusation is serious. Journalists wouldn't make it lightly. Other Palestinian colleagues and human rights groups denounced Al-Shayeb's arrest. He alone was targeted. Ibraghit wasn't questioned.
The Palestinian center for development and media freedom (MADA) demanded his immediate release. It also called for ending "the policy of arrest and detention of (Palestinian) journalists. Al-Shayeb was simply doing his job...."
Under Palestinian law, journalists aren't obligated to reveal sources except on matters of national security, following a court order, or under unusual circumstances.
The International Press Institute (IPI) also questioned targeting Al-Shayeb for reporting on official wrongdoing. It said PA authorities had no reason to arrest him while investigating his charges continues.
Separately, PA authorities interrogated Tariq Khamis, a Zaman Press web site reporter. At issue were Facebook posts calling Abbas a traitor and an article about Palestinian youth groups highly critical of PA Amman peace negotiations with Israel.
Weeks earlier, PA security services arrested Wafa news journalist Rami Samara, held him a few hours, then released him. At issue was his critical Facebook comment about a PLO executive committee meeting and recent Amman peace talks with Israeli negotiators.
Samara told MADA he was interrogated, then asked to sign a statement. He refused because it included comments he hadn't made. A solidarity sit-in by colleagues got him released.
MADA condemned his arrest as well as "the harassment of journalists who openly express their views." It demanded security services respect press freedom.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also denounced the PA arrests and harassment. These actions occurred despite announcing an annual press freedom award for exemplary journalism.
According to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the idea is about supporting local media and encouraging journalists to produce "quality and daring material that addresses citizens' concerns." In May, this year's winner will be announced.
According to CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney:
"It is ironic that Palestinian leaders, who for years have benefited from independent media coverage, should now try to stifle their own critical journalists. The Palestinian Authority should stop muzzling journalists and scouring social media posts looking for critics to punish."
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), their main union, urged reporters to boycott the award in light of recent events. Following an emergency meeting, PJS asked them to focus on Al-Shayeb's case. It called it a blow to press freedom.
Ironically, Fayyad called local media "one of the most important pillars of an independent Palestinian state, as it is the fourth branch of the government, which must be respected."
He added that the award was established as "a commitment to the promise it made two years ago which is that it will always be supportive and a protector of freedom of expression and opinion."
He and other PA officials can back that statement by dropping all charges against Al-Shayeb and apologize for mistreating him. Otherwise, Palestinian press freedom exists in name only, a meaningless pledge.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
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