Campaign of Harassment: Second Police Investigation against Indymedia Israel
For the second time in a very short period, the Israeli police have begun an investigation against the Indymedia Israel organization. The first investigation was instigated by the Israeli Ministry of Communication. The present investigation is in reference to an article which had been deleted from the website newswire. The complaints being made to the police must be seen as part of a wider campaign being carried out by certain right-wing interests, against both the democratic right to free speech and the right to privacy, with the broader intent to quash any form critical dialogue.
Campaign of Harassment: Second Police Investigation against Indymedia Israel in Two Months
By Bryan Atinsky, Tel-Aviv, Israel
For the second time in a very short period, the Israeli police have begun an investigation against the Indymedia Israel organization. The first investigation was instigated after the Israeli Ministry of Communication filed an official police complaint in regard to a political cartoon published onto the Indymedia Israel website by the well-known Brazilian political cartoonist Latuff (for more information on the complaint and investigation, see: http://indymedia.org.il/article/18543). The present investigation, the topic of which was only known to Indymedia Israel after meeting with the police on the 9th of May, is in reference to an article published on March 29, which had been deleted from the website newswire on the same day, by one of the Indymedia Israel editors. The complaints being made to the police against Indymedia Israel must be seen as part of a wider campaign being carried out by certain right-wing private and governmental interests, against both the democratic right to free speech and the right to privacy, with the broader intent to quash any form critical dialogue.
On the afternoon of May 8th, I received a phone call from an Israeli police officer who stated he was from the National Unit for Fraud Investigation. The officer told me that I must come to the Bat Yam police station for an interview as soon as possible. I requested several times for the officer to give me a general idea of the reason I was being called in to make a statement. He declared that he would not tell me over the phone what the topic of the interview would be, but that it was Indymedia and not myself which was under investigation. I stated that while I understood that to be the case, I must have some information about the reason Indymedia Israel was under investigation, both so that I could relay the information to the rest of the organization and in order to be able to have some form of consultation with Indymedia Israel's attorney. The officer repeated that he was under no obligation to explain the reason for the interview, and that I would gain the pertinent information during the meeting. After some further back and forth arguing about whether he would give me any additional information, I finally agreed with the police officer to meet the next morning (May 9, 2002).
However, after discussion with other members of the Indymedia Israel organization, a decision was made to attempt to postpone the meeting until Sunday, and to first consult with our attorney. I then attempted several times to call back the police and change the meeting date. There was no answer, however, at the desk of the officer I was to meet the next day.
The next morning, May 9th, at 8:30 A.M., I once again attempted to reach the officer by phone, and this time was successful. I explained to him that we wanted, both to delay the meeting until Sunday and to get some more information about the topic of the meeting in order to be able to then get informed consultation from our attorney. The officer again refused to answer any questions on the topic of the investigation against Indymedia Israel, and stated that our desire to consult with an attorney before the meeting makes him "suspicious that we may have something illegal to hide." He further stated that I had no right to change the date of the meeting: "It isn't up to you to decide whether or not you will come in to the police or when, you have stated a meeting time and that is the time that you will come in."
I then promptly drove to the police station, and upon arrival met with two officers who interviewed me about Indymedia Israel. One officer did most of the talking, while the other sat and took notes. The first thing I did after sitting down was to request that they state exactly what this investigation was about. The main officer replied, instead, that he was first interested in getting some general information about Indymedia. I repeated that I would give them the information as soon as they tell me specific information about the investigation; whether the investigation was related to the Latuff cartoon I had been called in to the Jaffa Police Station to discuss last month, or whether this was about something else.
Finally, they pulled out a piece of paper from their (surprisingly large) file on Indymedia Israel and handed it to me. It was an article dated March 29, 2002, titled: "Israel Starts Up Factories of Death." After finishing the article, only one paragraph long, they asked me if I had seen the article before. I stated that I had not actually seen it before, that during the period it was published we were getting hundreds of articles and comments a day, and further that the fact that I hadn't noticed it in the newswire probably means that it was deleted from the newswire by somebody else in the Indymedia Israel editing group. They then asked me whether we keep information about each of the people who publish articles onto our website (IP address, passwords, registration information), and specifically any information about the author of the suspect article. I replied that we do not keep any of this information, both because we believe this information to be an invasion of privacy, and because if we had kept the information, we knew that we might get into a situation such as the one that was occurring at the moment. If we don't have the information, we cannot be legally forced to give it up. It must be made clear that the Israeli police's request for the private information of people who publish articles onto the Indymedia Israel website, has dangerous implications for both freedom of speech and the right to privacy.
Further, after having knowledge about what the investigation was in reference to, I asked them why this was being investigated by the National Unit for Fraud Investigation, as it did not seem to me to involve any fraud. It was only then that they notified me they were not from the Fraud Unit, but instead from the National Unit for Computer Crimes Investigation. I then asked them what this had to do with computer crime; while we had a website, this was a content issue. They replied that it was a good question and they themselves didn't really know the answer.
The officers then requested once more that I give some general information about the Indymedia Israel collective. I replied almost verbatim what I had stated to the Jaffa Police last month:
The Indymedia Israel website is an open forum which provides the capability for any person to publish news, ideas and opinions. The website is part (though autonomous) of the International Indymedia collective which all work in much the same format.
On average, approximately fifty articles are published to the website a day from all over the world, from Israeli settlers to people in the Arab states. The editors, without any relation to their private opinions, do not hide, rewrite or edit any idea or opinion, except in the following cases:
1. Direct calls for violence.
2. Directly racist statements.
3. Publications which attempt to directly market goods.
4. Information which can be proven to be false.
The only active editing work done by the editorial group is in the selection of important or interesting articles that were previously published on the site, and to move them to the center Feature Column.
After the general explanation of our website and organization, they asked me whether the article in question could be considered to have overstepped any of the red-lines, making it applicable to be deleted. I replied that it was my opinion that the article had been 'hidden' (we do not delete any articles from our server) by someone in the internet editing group already. I further stated that, though I would presume it could be easily filed under the 'proven falsehood' category, the Israeli government and Army had denied entry to any independent observers, human rights organizations, or to any local or international reporters; so the issue in this specific case is that, though one could presume that the allegation of underground factories-of-death capable of killing 4000 people an hour, was completely absurd, the Israeli government had made it impossible to verify one way or the other, making it not a 'proven falsehood'. I continued by stating that, nevertheless, because of the absurdity of the specific content of the article, it would still be (in my personal opinion) legitimate to hide the article, and, moreover, repeated that I presume it had already been hidden.
I then asked them if they had internet access in the office. After they affirmed that they do, I requested for them to allow me to check whether the article had been hidden from the newswire or not. They allowed me. Entering into the administration page of the website, I put in the specific article number they gave me. Looking together, we saw that the article had, as I had presumed, been set to 'hidden', meaning that no one could see the article in the newswire, and that it would not come up in any keyword search; the only way to access the specific article was to already know what the article number was. Only someone who had already seen the article before and knew where it was, could call up the article.
They then asked a series of general questions about: where our office was, what we do in the office, how many people have administrative access to the website, where our server is located, how we have the funds to run the organization, whether we had any paid staff or not, etc.
After I answered the questions to their satisfaction, they let me go. The whole meeting took somewhere around two hours (three if you include my drive there and home). The two officers who interviewed me were very amiable; there was nothing personal meant to either the Indymedia organization or me. They were merely doing their job.
However, there is now a pattern of harassment going on, from unknown sources, against the Indymedia Israel organization. This is the second instance in a short period of time that someone from our organization has been called into the police to make statements; both times over articles which were not published by anyone within our organization, were not highlighted in any way on the website, and one of which was in fact removed from the newswire by one of our editors. The unknown complainants are attempting to use the Israeli legal system as a tool of harassment, with the aim of silencing our organization's right to free speech, and more importantly, of eliminating publication of information that they want to suppress.
The suspect article was not published by anyone actively involved in the Indymedia Israel community. It was at no time ever placed in the center (Feature) column of the website. It was only referenced to as a link in the right column (the open publishing newswire forum) on the 29th of March, 2002, and it was removed from the newswire soon after it was published. Moreover, the article (along with all others published onto the website) is the opinion of the author and the author alone.
The question must be asked, therefore, why this article, which was published at the end of March, and on the newswire for only a few hours, was suddenly remembered? I requested from the police, and was not given, any information about who entered the complaint against Indymedia Israel in regard to this article. However, it is well known that there has been a prominent campaign going on, instigated by right-wing activists and government officials, who are attempting to silence and suppress various media organizations, from Channel 1 Israeli Television, to the journalists of Ha'aretz Gideon Levy and Amira Hass.
Indymedia Israel refuses to be sidetracked by any campaign to silence the important work we are doing, and we will continue to bring to light and increase our coverage of important information and events, which other media organizations either marginalize or ignore completely.
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