Israel sentences two to prison terms for censorship breach

New York, June 17, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns an Israeli court decision to sentence two television journalists on charges of breaching the military censorship law during the offensive in Gaza in December and January.

Khader Shaheen, a correspondent for the Iranian satellite news television station Al-Alam, and his producer Muhammad Sarhan were sentenced on Sunday by a court in Jerusalem to two months in jail plus a suspended six-month term, lawyers Tamer Obeid and David Derri told CPJ. The two lawyers said they would appeal the ruling. The journalists are free on appeal, the lawyers said.

Shaheen and Sarhan, who work for the Ramallah bureau of the Al-Alam, were arrested in January and held for 10 days on charges they reported Israeli military movements the previous month. The military censorship law enables military censors to determine what material may not be published; local and foreign journalists are bound by this law as a condition of operating in Israel or the Occupied Territories.

The Al-Alam coverage described troops and equipment being readied to move into Gaza; a CPJ review of other coverage at the time showed that dozens of news outlets reported similar information.

“We are shocked by this court ruling and call on the Israeli courts to overturn this excessively harsh prison term on appeal,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. “Shaheen and Sarhan reported the same news that many others did, and they should not be singled out for punishment.”

In December and January, CPJ urged Israel to lift its ban on media coverage of the Gaza offensive and wrote to former Prime Minister Olmert to remind him to abide by the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of 1995 which urge his government “not [to] exclude journalists … from areas that are experiencing violence or armed conflict except where their presence would pose a clear risk to the safety of others.”