Israel media worried over looming indictment (AP) Associated Press) By AMY TEIBEL JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 06/03/12 2:32 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM – The Israeli government´s plans to indict an investigative
reporter who exposed classified military practices for killing wanted
Palestinian militants has sent a chill over Israel´s aggressive media
and evoked dark warnings of a crusade to muzzle the press.
Israeli journalists have repeatedly accused Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu of trying to stifle the press since he took office three
Critics say the planned indictment of Uri Blau from the liberal
Haaretz newspaper goes even further by undercutting the essence of
journalism: keeping citizens informed of what their government is up
The government replies that despite his insistence that he was just
doing his job, the journalist was holding classified documents
illegally and will be charged. An Israeli government spokesman
declined to comment on the wider issues.
Dozens of Israeli journalists demonstrated Sunday against the planned
indictment outside the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem. Officials say
formal charges are expected within weeks.
"The charge sheet is directed against all journalists," Haaretz
commentator Gideon Levy wrote in his column Sunday. "The next
journalist who receives information about a scandal in the Israeli
military will tell his source, ´leave me alone. I don´t want to get
into trouble. I don´t want to be another Blau.´"
Israeli news media are famously unruly, exposing alleged government
malfeasance involving everyone from prime ministers to lowly city
workers on a regular basis. It was unclear if this case would
actually tone down the sometimes over-zealous and super-competitive
Blau could face up to seven years in prison for possessing sensitive
military documents without proper authorizations, despite returning
the material to the army.
Legal experts predict it is highly unlikely Blau will ever end up
behind bars, saying the state will probably seek a plea bargain
Blau obtained more than 2,000 military documents, including
operational plans and lists of potential targets, from a former
soldier who copied them from army computers between 2005 and 2007.
Some 700 were classified.
He published some of the information in investigative articles,
including one in 2007 alleging that the army had planned the killing
of wanted Palestinian militants in violation of a court order to
arrest them alive if possible.
As required under Israeli law, Blau submitted all of his stories to
Israel´s military censor before they were published. The censor
approved the articles, meaning they contained no information that was
deemed dangerous to state security.
Nonetheless, prosecutors have come down hard on both Blau and Anat
Kamm, the soldier who leaked the material to him. Kamm was sentenced
last year to 4 1/2 years in prison on espionage charges.
After Kamm´s 2009 arrest, Haaretz kept Blau abroad for roughly a year
to avoid prosecution. He returned to Israel in late 2010 after
promising prosecutors to return documents, which he did.
Last week, the Justice Ministry said Blau would be charged with
unauthorized possession of state secrets because "the potential for
damage in the unprotected possession of the documents was enormous."
It concluded the gravity of his conduct outweighed the public´s right
In his formal response to the impending charges, Blau
said, "Everything I did, I did as part of my mission as a
journalist." He declined an interview request from the AP.
Former Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner, now president of the
Israel Press Council, said she regretted the government´s decision to
indict, saying Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein had the discretion
not to prosecute.
Israel, whose leaders proudly call the country the Middle East´s only
democracy, is not alone in targeting a journalist who revealed
Four decades ago, the U.S. grappled with the leak of the Pentagon
Papers, documents packed with damaging revelations about America´s
conduct of the Vietnam War, to U.S. media. In a landmark case seen as
a victory for press freedom, President Richard Nixon unsuccessfully
tried to suppress publication and crush those responsible for the
More recently, several countries have been embarrassed by documents
obtained by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
The United States has charged an army private with aiding the enemy,
a crime that can carry a sentence of life in prison, for allegedly
sending hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables and war
logs downloaded from government computers to WikiLeaks.
News organizations that wrote stories based on WikiLeaks material
have not been targeted.
Britain´s Official Secrets Act bars civil servants from leaking
secrets, and several have been charged in recent years. But
prosecutions of journalists who receive leaked information are rare
in that country. Recently, Guardian journalist Amelia Hill was
questioned over stories about a high-profile phone hacking scandal,
but prosecutors decided she would not be charged.
In 2005, Germany authorities raided the offices of a magazine that
obtained a classified intelligence report about a top al-Qaida
figure. The country´s top constitutional court ruled the
investigation and raid violated freedom of the press.
While Sweden bars the publication of classified information that
could harm national security, prosecution is rare. In 1973, two
Swedish journalists were convicted of espionage and sentenced to
about one year each in prison for articles revealing the existence of
a secret Swedish intelligence agency.
In Israel, critics of the government say the planned charges against
Blau are part of a broader effort to muzzle detractors.
Parliament has also given preliminary approval to a bill that would
make it much easier for journalists to be sued and significantly
increases the fines reporters can be ordered to pay, without proof of
damages. ____ AP reporters Jill Lawless in London, Juergen Baetz in
Berlin and Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed to this report. (©
2012 The Associated Press 06/03/12)
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