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PA: Bethlehem journalist held on criminal charges

June 4, 2013 11:31 A.M. (Updated: June 6, 2013 1:24 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Palestinian Authority on Monday arrested a journalist in Bethlehem after accusing him of stirring sectarian tension and releasing a false statement attributed to a military group.

Attorney General Abdul-Ghani al-Uweiwi told Ma’an that George Canawati, who manages the Bethlehem Radio 2000 news outlet, was being held on criminal charges.

He insisted the charges were unrelated to Canawati's work as a journalist.

Al-Uweiwi said prosecutors had enough evidence to prove that Canawati was guilty of the charges against him and violating other people’s rights. He will be referred to court, the attorney general said.

The general prosecution, added al-Uweiwi, has sent a letter to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate explaining that the detention of Canawati had nothing to do with his profession.

The arrest came a week after a statement was distributed in Bethlehem with the signature of Fatah's armed wing, demanding that Bethlehem security services release a member of the municipal council who was detained after the mayor filed a complaint against him.

The council member, Mahir Canawati, is George Canawati's cousin.

Shortly after the statement was distributed, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said it was forged.

According to Bethlehem governor Abdul-Fattah Hamayil, security services in Bethlehem have arrested others accused of releasing the statement. The statement, which included attacks on several individuals, was distributed to create sectarian troubles, the governor said.

He added that Bethlehem mayor Vera Baboun had filed a complaint against Canawati accusing him of being behind the false statement, which threatened her and accused her of sectarianism.

Upon that, added Hamayil, security services detained a number of suspects who allegedly confessed they were involved in releasing the statement. The suspects told interrogators that Canawati was the one who worded the statement, and was the "mastermind" of the campaign against the mayor, the governor said.

Based on the alleged confessions, the general prosecution accused Canawati of three breaches of the law: arousing sectarian troubles, defamation of a dignitary, and forgery.

Hamayil said it was necessary to differentiate between freedom of the press and expression, which is a sacred right, and between violating other people’s rights in the name of that freedom. “There is nothing called absolute freedom, and one’s freedom ends where other persons’ freedom begins,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority has arrested Canawati twice before. In 2011, Hamayil filed a complaint against the journalist over a report criticizing local PA medical services. A year earlier, Palestinian security forces detained Canawati for five days after he reported on internal disputes within Fatah.

(This version corrects that Canawati is the manager of Bethlehem Radio 2000, not its owner.)
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