CPJ condemns closure of local TV station

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New York, September 20, 2001--The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly protests the Palestinian National Authority (PNA)'s closure of a private television station in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Palestinian police and security agents descended on the offices of the private television station Al-Roa TV at about 11:00 a.m. local time and ordered the station to cease broadcasting immediately, CPJ has learned.

No reason was given for the suspension, and the officers failed to provide station staff with any official documentation to justify the raid. Station director Hamdi Faraj eventually received a document from the local police stating only that the station had been closed by order of Hadj Ismail Jaber, general director of the Palestinian military and police forces in the West Bank.

Staff at Al-Roa told CPJ that they believe the closure was in reprisal for a news bulletin aired early this morning. The bulletin announced that Al-Roa had received a statement from the Al-Aqsa Brigades, a group affiliated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization, claiming responsibility for today's attack on two Jewish settlers in the West bank, which resulted in the death of one settler.

The publicity apparently embarrassed the PNA since Al-Roa's bulletin suggested that a group that is technically under Arafat's control might have violated the recently announced Palestinian cease-fire.

By Al Roa's own count, this is the 10th time PNA authorities have closed it down since the station was founded in the early 1990s.

"The Palestinian authority has once again demonstrated its contempt for press freedom," said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. "We condemn this arbitrary act of censorship and call on the PNA to allow Al-Roa TV to resume broadcasting without further hindrance."