May 8, 2012
Minister of Communications
9 Ehad Ha'am Street
Via facsimile +972-2-6240029
Dear Minister Kachlon,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the confiscation of equipment and archives belonging to the private Ramallah broadcaster Wattan TV more than two months ago.
On February 29, Ministry of Communications officials and Israeli soldiers seized the station's transmitters, computers, files, and other equipment without showing a warrant or giving an explanation. The equipment was funded in large part by U.S. agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Middle East Partnership Initiative, a fund controlled by the U.S. State Department.
The ministry continues to hold the equipment despite international calls that it be returned. Wattan TV, which is the only independent television station that broadcasts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, faces financial ruin if its equipment is not returned.
Israeli authorities have asserted that Wattan TV was broadcasting illegally and interfering with aircraft transmissions and other broadcast frequencies. But Muamar Orabi, the station's general director, told CPJ that Wattan TV had a broadcast license granted by the Palestinian Authority, which could not have been issued without Israeli acquiescence. Orabi also said that in 2004 he had registered the broadcast frequency with the International Telecommunication Union, the U.N. agency for information and communication technologies in Geneva.
The confiscation appeared to go well beyond issues related to broadcast frequencies. Officials seized the broadcaster's entire news archive, footage, servers, personnel records, computers, and personal laptops, according to Orabi. CPJ has sought a fuller explanation for the raid from the communications ministry, but spokesman Yechiel Shavi has declined to give details.
We urge you to return all seized equipment to Wattan TV immediately and allow the station to resume operations without interference. Wattan, founded in 1996, has established a well-known reputation for probing coverage of both Palestinian and Israeli authorities. Its closure would be a profound loss to all those seeking access to independent information.
We look forward to your response on this urgent matter.