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PA foreign minister defends arrest of journalist

March 29, 2012 11:28 P.M. (Updated: March 31, 2012 2:08 P.M.)
BAGHDAD (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Authority foreign minister on Thursday defended his role in the arrest of a journalist who the government is accusing of defamation and libel over a January newspaper story.

Riyad al-Malki told reporters on the sidelines of an Arab summit in Iraq that the arrest of Yousef al-Shayeb was justified, and suggested he and the government were victims.

"I'm surprised some journalists reacted emotionally on behalf of their colleague without hearing the other side's case, or considering for a moment if Yousef al-Shayeb is the oppressor or the oppressed," he said.

The minister is a central character in the report al-Shayeb filed for Jordan's al-Ghad newspaper in late January. It suggests al-Malki illegally promoted a diplomat, Safwat Ibraghit, to the post of deputy ambassador to Paris despite having knowledge of Ibraghit's ties to foreign intelligence agencies.

The minister maintains that the journalist knew before filing his report that it contained falsehoods. He says he expected al-Shayeb to apologize but the journalist has instead defended his work.

Al-Malki, visibly angry on Thursday, added that journalists should "expel al-Shayeb from their ranks. He has harmed the Palestinian media and published (false) reports. He should have been more professional."

The minister said the general prosecutor has been asked to investigate the charges contained in the report. If they are accurate, the parties will be prosecuted and if not, the journalist will be charged. So far only the journalist, and not any diplomats, have been held for questioning.

He said al-Shayeb should be held responsible for what he publishes and not "play the victim."

"The truth will come out at the end," he added.

Journalists and human rights groups, meanwhile, have denounced the arrest.

The Palestinian center for development and media freedoms, known as Mada, demanded al-Shayeb's release and called for an end to "the policy of arrest and detention of journalists" in Palestine.

"Shayeb was simply doing his job as a journalist," the group said.

It also pointed out that under Palestinian law, journalists have no obligation to reveal their sources except in unusually urgent circumstances, such as a national security matter, and following a court order.
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