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Israel Indymedia Taken Down And Intimidated

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) states in a letter to the Attorney General of Israel: ''The investigation against Indymedia Israel has turned into intimidation, harming Freedom of Speech on the Internet.''

Israel Indymedia Taken Down And Intimidated


Translated from Hebrew
http://www.acri.org.il/hebrew-acri/engine/story.asp?id=771
December, 26th, 2003

Police investigators are attempting to throw responsibility on Indymedia Israel’s operators, for publications appearing in the “open publishing zone” of the website. This is done illegally and against the recommendations of a professional committee of the Israel Ministry of Justice.

The Indymedia Israel website provides a free and open stage for surfers on the Internet. Approximately three weeks ago, a surfer outside of Israel published a caricature in the open publishing zone of the website, in which the Israeli Prime Minister is portrayed passionately kissing the leader of Nazi Germany. Subsequent to this, the Attorney General of Israel ordered the opening of an investigation against the website’s administrators, for incitement and insulting a public figure.

Today, attorney Avner Pinchuk of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) sent a letter to the Israel Attorney General demanding an immediate end to the investigation. Attorney Pinchuk claims that the moment the police realized the site’s operators did not publish the publication, it was illegitimate to harass them with an investigation. Worse than this, the police investigators are attempting to ‘convince’ the site’s operators to commit themselves to continual censorship over all publications in the open publishing zone of the site. By doing this, the investigators deviate from their authority in an attempt to impose on the Israeli Internet arena, norms which are against both the law and the position of most professionals working in the field, in Israel and abroad—including a special committee of the Israel Ministry of Justice.

Electronic billboards, like that of Indymedia Israel, are very common on the Internet and are used by many individuals and communities wishing to exchange information and opinions freely. As opposed to the global process of concentration of the media and debate in the hands of a few, the public platform of the Internet provides a unique ground for free, democratic dialogue. Indeed, in the open publishing zone, some offensive expressions might appear, such as slander or abuse of privacy. However, the general opinion of judges and legislators from all over the world holds that, in almost all cases, responsibility should not be laid upon the providers of Internet services—website operators that allow an open publishing zone for the entire surfing public. This is also the opinion of a special committee of the Israeli Ministry of Justice, which presently discusses this issue.

Now however, when legislators and judges around the world deny that website operators have civil responsibility for ''guest'' publications, and at the very moment that the Ministry of Justice committee discusses the design of legal arrangements that will explicitly anchor these conceptions in law, the police investigation team makes up its own norms, claiming criminal responsibility, and even worse, hurrying to impose them in practice using an harassing and bullying investigation against the website operators, demanding behavior according to a ‘legal policy’ that they made-up.

Attorney Pinchuk adds that making the website operators supervise and censor all publications that are published on the open platform will bring the majority of websites to extinction. Many websites that don’t posses resources can not fulfill the demands for pre-supervision and will rather cancel the open publishing system. Other sites attempting to avoid potential indictment and interrogation will act to aggressively censor, only to assure themselves against intimidation, indictments and other charges. Therefore, analogous to what happened in other public domains, dialogue on the Internet will be reduced to a domain controlled and supervised by and for the few.

Fear of abuse on the internet, says Attorney Pinchuk, must not bring about the destruction of the platform itself. We can assume that the invention of the airplane assisted criminals occasionally to escape, but the solution to this problem lies in the field of extradition law and international agreements, not in the destruction of airplanes or placing responsibility on pilots or stewardesses.

Therefore, Attorney Pinchuk requests a permanent end to the investigation and a cessation of harassment against the website operators for publications published by others on the open platform on the website.

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Shamai Leibowitz, lawyer for Indymedia Israel, adds: ''This is a dangerous attempt by the Israeli government, to quash Freedom of Speech and the Freedom to Disseminate Information. It uses fear and threats in order to suppress critique of the Israeli government and what is occurring in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This police investigation reminds us, to our deep regret, of the situation in the book 1984 by George Orwell.''

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