Israel’s Indictment of Journalist a Worrying Step Toward Censorship

Charges filed against a journalist for unauthorized possession of state secrets set a dangerous precedent for press freedom in Israel and should be dropped immediately, according to Freedom House.

Israel’s Attorney General announced on May 30 that Uri Blau, a reporter for the newspaper Haaretz, is being charged with “holding classified information without authorization,” a charge that carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison.  Blau received classified documents from a whistleblower within Israel’s military, and used some of them in a 2008 article revealing the targeted killing of two Palestinian militants, in violation of an order by Israel’s Supreme Court. The source of the documents, Anat Kam, pleaded guilty to “leaking classified material” and was sentenced in October 2011 to four and a half years in prison.

The charges against Blau are part of the Israeli penal code’s section on aggravated espionage. This case is the first time an Israeli journalist was prosecuted for the possession of classified materials, and Blau is being prosecuted even though this article had been cleared by the military censor. A 1996 Censorship Agreement between the media and military in Israel empowers censors to penalize, shut down, stop the printing of a newspaper, or confiscate printing machines on the grounds of national security. Reporters have often evaded the restrictions by leaking stories to foreign media and then republishing them.

"The case against Blau sends a chilling message to journalists and whistle-blowers alike,” said Courtney Radsch, senior program manager for Freedom House’s Global Freedom of Expression campaign.  “It is a big move in the wrong direction for a country that otherwise has had a strong record for media freedoms."

Israel is rated Free in Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2012 and Freedom in the World 2012 surveys.

Learn more:

Freedom in the World 2011: Israel

Freedom of the Press 2011: Israel