All regimes in Israel/Palestine guilty of restricting free speech
UN expert slams censorship by Israel, Palestinians
By Frank Jordans, Associated Press
June 20, 2012
GENEVA — The government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza are all unduly limiting free speech through restrictive laws, intimidation and censorship, a U.N. human rights expert said Tuesday.
The global body’s independent investigator on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, said the measures have had a chilling effect on the work of journalists and peaceful activists, and urged Israel and the Palestinians to uphold international standards on free speech.
“I am concerned by the recent attempts to limit criticism of Israel regarding its policies and practices of occupation, and questioning of Israel as a Jewish state,” La Rue said as he presented his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
He cited a law adopted last year that allows Israeli authorities to fine publicly-funded institutions that commemorate the so-called “Nakba,” or catastrophe, an Arabic term used by Palestinians to describe the displacement of hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish residents during the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948.
“The law severely undermines their right to freely express their opinion, preserve their history and culture, and to their right to commemorate the Nakba, which is an integral part of their history,” said La Rue.
He also questioned an Israeli law that makes it a civil offense to call for a boycott against Israel and its products, as well as those produced in the settlements in the West Bank.
“Calling for or participating in a peaceful boycott is a legitimate form of expression which is internationally recognized,” La Rue said in his report. “Moreover, given that lawsuits can be brought against individuals without any proof of damages, it creates further incentives for self-censorship, including on the Internet, to avoid litigation. ”
He voiced similar criticism of a bill to amend Israel’s defamation law, which would sharply increase fines without the need to prove damages.
“If adopted, it will create a significant chilling effect and will discourage investigative journalists, human rights NGOs and individuals expressing critical views,” said La Rue.
Israel should also drop the practice of having a military censor review articles on issues of national security prior to publication, he said.
Israeli diplomats in Geneva didn’t comment on the report because the country has officially suspended its work with the 47-nation rights council, which Israel accuses of being biased against it.
But in Jerusalem, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor noted the government “fully cooperated” with La Rue.
“We will study his report carefully and seriously,” he said. “We remain totally committed to freedom of speech for all, and we will examine very closely the recommendations with the aim of making whatever improvements may be necessary.”
La Rue also criticized the Western-backed Palestinian Authority for requiring publishing licenses and censoring publications according to broad and vague rules. He also expressed concern at reports that Facebook users were harassed for posting unfavorable comments about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib said the report would be dealt with “positively and seriously.”
Palestinian law “guarantees the freedom of the press, and normally we exert all our efforts to guarantee that,” he said.
Khatib also said there has been a “major improvement” in press freedom over the past four years. “However, there have been individual, rare cases, but they were solved because of the power of the civil society and public opinion,” he said.
In Gaza, the ruling Hamas faction, which seized control of the coastal strip from Abbas’ forces five years ago, has introduced a new requirement for foreign journalists to name a local contact, which could lead to self-censorship, La Rue said. He criticized the excessive force used by Hamas to disperse peaceful protests and cited “arbitrary arrests and detention of protesters and journalists monitoring demonstrations.”
Hassan Abu Hashish, chairman of Hamas’ Gaza government press office, called the report “slander.”
“Freedom of the media and freedom of speech in the Gaza Strip is well ahead of other Arab countries and the West Bank,” he said.
Josef Federman in Jerusalem, Dalia Nammari in Ramallah, West Bank, and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.
Report to Human Rights Council, UNGA
By Frank La Rue
June 11, 2012
VI. Conclusions and recommendations
A. Government of Israel
97. The Special Rapporteur is concerned by recent threats to openness and acceptance of divergent views in Israel as a result of an increasing emphasis on Israel as a Jewish State and growing intolerance of criticism regarding the policies and practices of occupation. This has been manifested through a series of laws adopted by the members of the Knesset, including the prohibition of the commemoration of the Israeli independence day as a day of mourning; creation of additional, yet redundant, reporting obligations for Israeli human rights NGOs; prohibition of boycotts or calling for a boycott of Israeli products, including those produced in the settlements in the West Bank; and a six-fold increase of financial penalties for defamation.
98. The Special Rapporteur calls upon the Members of Knesset to refrain from adopting laws that are inconsistent with the obligations of Israel under international human rights law, including article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. While the Supreme Court can rule such laws to be incompatible with Israeli Basic Laws, the proposal and adoption of restrictive laws generates a climate of self-censorship. He would also like to underscore that all branches of the State – executive, legislative and judicial – and other public or Governmental bodies, at whatever level, are in a position to engage the responsibility of Israel for any actions taken in contravention of international norms and standards on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
99. As recommended by various United Nations treaty bodies, the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty should be amended to include principles of nondiscrimination and equality and the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
100. The Special Rapporteur also recommends that the Government amend or repeal the vaguely worded provisions in the Penal Code, as highlighted in Chapter IV, section A.
101. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the post of Chief Censor be abolished in Israel, and that restrictions on the right to freedom of expression on the grounds of national security be prescribed by law. Such law must be accessible,
unambiguous, drawn narrowly and with precision, and justified as being necessary and the least restrictive means available to protect a specific and legitimate national security interest. The law should also provide for adequate safeguards against abuse, including prompt, full and effective judicial scrutiny of the validity of a particular
restriction by an independent court.
102. The right of individuals in the West Bank to express themselves through peaceful assemblies must be fully respected by the Israeli Security Forces. The Special Rapporteur urges the Government of Israel to repeal Military Order 101, and to ensure that there is no excessive use of force against peaceful protesters. Every injury or death resulting from the use of force by the Israeli security forces must be swiftly investigated and the individual responsible held accountable.
103. The Special Rapporteur calls upon the Government of Israel to ensure that all journalists in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, can perform their professional duties without undue interference. This includes halting the practice of arbitrary raids of and seizure of equipment from media offices, arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, and deliberate attacks against journalists monitoring demonstrations. He urges the Israeli authorities to return all confiscated equipment without undue delay, release journalists who have been arbitrarily arrested or ensure
that they are promptly brought before a court in accordance with international standards on the right to a fair trial, and investigate all attacks against journalists and bring perpetrators to account in order to prevent impunity.
104. The right to freedom of movement is crucial to the work of human rights defenders and journalists to access information and monitor, record and report on human rights violations and other matters of public interest. The Government of Israel has an obligation to justify the continued need for the imposition of travel bans on human rights defenders and journalists, including presentation of evidence to enable individuals to challenge bans in court.
105. The Special Rapporteur calls upon the Government of Israel to ensure that Palestinian citizens of Israel can fully exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, including through their own media and language. The requirement of “loyalty to the State of Israel” in East Jerusalem is in clear violation of international law and undermines the right to freedom of opinion and expression and should thus be repealed.
106. The right to freedom of opinion and expression of Arab Knesset members, as with all individuals in Israel, should be fully respected.
107. The Special Rapporteur appeals to the Government of Israel to reinstate the residency status of the four members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and to enable them to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression in East Jerusalem. He also calls upon the Israeli authorities to fully ensure that all Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are able to peacefully express dissent and criticism of Israel without fear of revocation of their residency status or other forms of reprisals.
108. The Special Rapporteur calls upon the Government of Israel to refrain from interfering with the content of text books used in Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem. Moreover, he calls upon the Government of Israel to ensure that all
cultural activities can be held without undue restrictions in East Jerusalem.
B. Palestinian Authority
109. While recognizing the difficulties in implementing legislative reforms due to the paralysis of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the Special Rapporteur urges the Palestinian Authority to revise the Press and Publications Law of 1995, in consultation with civil society representatives, for ratification by the President.
110. The Special Rapporteur calls upon the Palestinian Authority to decriminalize defamation. He also urges public officials to exercise a higher degree of tolerance for critical comments and refrain from filing defamation lawsuits.
111. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Palestinian Authority halt the practice of detaining and interrogating individuals for legitimate criticism of public officials. He also appeals to the Palestinian Authority to ensure that the right to freedom of expression on the Internet is fully guaranteed. Moreover, measures should be taken to promote tolerance of diverse opinions.
112. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Palestinian Authority facilitate and support the reform of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation into an independent institution.
113. The Special Rapporteur calls upon the Palestinian Authority to lift the ban on newspapers affiliated with the de facto authorities, and ensure that journalists working for such newspapers can freely undertake their work in the West Bank
without fear of harassment or intimidation.
114. Peaceful demonstrations should be allowed to take place in the West Bank without undue restrictions
C. De facto authorities in Gaza
115. The Special Rapporteur calls upon the de facto authorities to promote a culture of tolerance of divergent views, including criticisms, which is essential for any healthy society. To this end, he urges the de facto authorities to stop the practice of arbitrary arrests, detention and interrogation of individuals expressing critical views, as well as raids of offices, and interference with human rights related conferences and events.
116. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the de facto authorities lift the ban on newspapers affiliated with the Palestinian Authority and that journalists working for such newspapers can carry out their legitimate work in Gaza without any undue interference or harassment.
117. Peaceful assemblies and demonstrations should be allowed to take place in Gaza without undue interference and restrictions, as well as peaceful conferences and workshops.
118. The Special Rapporteur urges the de facto authorities in Gaza to ensure that both local and foreign journalists can carry out their legitimate work without intimidation, harassment and interference by officials from the Internal Security
Agency. This includes halting the practice of short-term detention and abolishing the requirement for foreign journalists to name a local contact in Gaza.