United Nations expert slams Israel over lack of freedom of expression

After a visit to Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel as part of a 12-day fact-finding mission by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue, the independent United Nations human-rights expert urged authorities in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to lift restrictions to freedom of expression.

He stressed that these are curbing minority views and dissenting opinions, and they prevented journalists and human rights defenders from reporting on rights violations.

La Rue said: “Truly democratic societies are measured by their respect of human rights, and in particular the right to freedom of expression as a ‘facilitator’ of all other rights. Freedom of expression does not only include expression of views that are widely accepted by the majority of the population or reflect the government’s policies, but also minority views and dissenting opinions.”

He became the first independent UN expert charged with monitoring and reporting on the right to freedom of opinion and expression to make an official visit to the region. During his visit, he met with senior Government officials representatives of civil society, lawyers, human rights defenders, and journalists. From these meetings, he was able to find some problems with the current situation regarding journalists and human rights defenders in the region not being able to carry out their work. He expressed concern over the fact that there was a “trend of arbitrary arrests and overnight detention” of the journalists and defenders occurring and this causes “self-censorship”.

In Israel, there is also an individual appointed to the government’s post of chief censor, who decides whether information gathered by journalists poses a threat to State security and if it can be published in the media. The problem that was found with this is that it was a body set up for the prior censorship of the press, and as La Rue said, it “should not exist in any country”.

Additonally, La Rue urged Israeli authorities to guarantee the right to freedom of expression to Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, who make up about 20% of the population, and Arab members of the Knesset, the country’s parliament.

Earlier this year, a controversial law was passed which made it a civil offence to call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of people or institutions in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) for political reasons. Anyone making such calls could face a lawsuit and other financial penalties. Additionally, the law also allows the finance minister to revoke the tax-exempt status of NGOs calling for a boycott, which threatens the funding on which many Israeli human rights NGOs rely. Companies or organizations participating in a boycott could also be disqualified from applying for government contracts.

These are just a few of the examples of the trend that La Rue was indicating about occurring in Israel. Nevertheless, one thing is for sure, the issue of freedom of expression is alive and kicking in Israel…not for the reasons it should be, but because it is being held hostage.

(www.neurope.eu / 20.12.2011)

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