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Detention of top Ma'an journalist condemned

Jan. 15, 2010 4:11 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 16, 2010 9:27 P.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma'an – As Israeli authorities prepared to expel Ma'an News Agency's chief English editor later this week, media rights groups have blasted his ongoing detention as an assault on freedom of the press.

Jared Malsin was originally scheduled to be deported without a hearing on Thursday morning. Protests by US authorities in Tel Aviv resulted in a temporary reversal, and an injunction filed by Ma'an delayed the expulsion until at least Sunday.

Reporters Without Borders "condemns the detention and imminent expulsion of US journalist Jared Malsin, who has worked for the past two years as an editor with Ma'an, an independent Palestinian news agency," the group said on Wednesday in a statement, the first of many that it and others would issue on behalf of the top journalist at Ma'an's English Desk.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which monitors freedom of the press worldwide, urged Israel to refrain from taking punitive action against reporters over specific content in their work. "Israel cannot hide behind the pretext of security to sideline journalists who have done nothing more than maintain an editorial line that the authorities dislike," the organization said.

Indeed, court documents indicated that Malsin's detention was directly related to his work at the news agency, quoting airport officials as noting that he authored articles "inside the territories," among them some which "criticized the State of Israel."

"We are alarmed by the Israeli government's efforts to deport Jared Malsin on vague security charges," stated CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. "We call on the Israeli authorities to ensure that our colleague be allowed to carry out his work without further harassment."

Meanwhile, two influential Palestinian media groups denounced the decision. The largest such union in the occupied territories, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, to which Malsin and every journalist employed by Ma'an belongs, likened the detention to "an act of piracy carried out against press freedom."

Naim Tubasi, who heads the syndicate, told Ma'an that the move to obstruct Malsin's freedom of movement and ability to report would violate international law in regard to the protection of journalists. "This act comes within a series of assaults carried out by Israel toward Palestinian and international journalists who work in the Palestinian territories," he said.

Tubasi urged the International Federation of Journalists, the Arab Union of Journalists, and other human rights organizations and media networks to denounce the decision, and to urgently intervene to prevent Malsin's expulsion. He also vowed that the union would carry out large-scale protests if Israel ultimately ignores international concern over Malsin's case.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), a media watchdog, strongly condemned the move, and demanded Malsin's imminent expulsion be reversed. "MADA condemns this act, which is serious violation of freedom of expression," it said, calling on the international community to pressure the Israeli government to release Malsin and to immediately stop other proceedings.

Later Thursday, the International Press Institute said it "is troubled by the possibility that the Israeli authorities have detained and will deport Jared Malsin because they dislike the editorial policies at Ma'an News Agency." IPI director David Dadge added: "The authorities should recognize that the right of press freedom applies to all journalists, not just to reporters who write favourably about Israeli government policy."
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