Israeli government orders Arab weekly’s closure

“Sawt al-Haq wa Horiya”

On 24 December 2002, RSF criticised the interior minister’s decision to close the radical Islamic weekly “Sawt al-Haq wa Al-Hurriya” (“Voice of Truth and Freedom”) for two years, on grounds that it threatens national security, as very excessive.

The organisation called on Interior Minister Eli Yishai to reconsider the closure bearing in mind Israeli legal precedent, notably the “ ‘Kol Ha’am’ decision”, which said a newspaper can only be shut down if it is an “almost certain” danger to national security.

The newspaper has 15 days to appeal the 22 December order to close the paper. The order came at the request of the Shin Beth security service, which stated that the paper is the mouthpiece for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. “Sawt al-Haq wa Al-Hurriya” is published by the radical wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel, a party founded in the 1970s that has two seats in the Israeli parliament and controls five Arab towns in Israel.

The closure order was based on Article 19 (2a) of the 1933 Press Ordinance dating from the period of the British Mandate in Palestine, before the founding of Israel. It was last used in 1953, when a government order to close two newspapers, “Kol Ha’am” and “Al-Ittihad”, was appealed at the High Court. High Court Judge Shimon Agranat made what became known as the “ ‘Kol Ha’am’ decision”, now considered a cornerstone of freedom of expression in Israel.

The ruling stated that closing a newspaper is an attack on liberal democracy and the publication of material that might eventually endanger public security is not a good enough reason to limit freedom of expression. Since then, Israeli courts have often ruled in favour of freedom of expression, stating that people should only be prosecuted after publishing the information rather than being banned beforehand. The minister’s decision is especially unusual because it has generally been the regional authorities that have banned newspapers.

The majority of Israeli newspapers that have been banned are those serving the country’s Arab minority, but this has been done using laws other than the 1933 measure. In the 1980s and 1990s, at least six Arab papers in Galilee and Jerusalem were shut down for having alleged links with a “terrorist organisation” without any direct relation to the newspaper’s content. The Tzadok Commission, set up in 1997 to revise the country’s press laws, favoured repealing the 1933 law but the government did not accept the recommendation.

More Information:

For further information, contact Séverine Cazes-Tschann at RSF, rue Geoffroy Marie, Paris, 75009, France, tel: +33 1 44 83 84 84, fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51, e-mail: moyen-orient@rsf.org, Internet: www.rsf.org