December 24, 2002 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Government orders closure of Arab weekly

Reporters Without Borders today criticised as very excessive the interior minister's decision to close for two years the radical Islamic weekly Sawt al-Haq wa Al-Hurriya (Voice of Truth and Freedom) on grounds that it threatens national security. The organisation called on interior minister Eli Yishai to reconsider the closure in the light of 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 paper, published by the radical wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel, has 15 days to appeal against the 22 December closure order, made at the urging of the Shin Beth security service, which says the paper is the mouthpiece of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The Islamic Movement in Israel was founded in the 1970s, 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 to the High Court, where 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 said closing a newspaper is an attack on liberal democracy and that 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, saying that people should be prosecuted only after publication, not punished beforehand with a ban. The 22 December decision by the minister was unusual because newspapers have hitherto been banned by regional authorities. The vast majority of Israeli newspapers that have been banned are those serving the country's Arab minority, but laws other than the 1933 measure have been used to do so. 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" and not directly because of what they printed. 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.