N.Y. Man Charged with Aiding Hezbollah TV Channel
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This past week, the Department of Justice charged a New York City man for aiding a terrorist organization. Javed Iqbal runs a small Brooklyn satellite TV company, and he's accused of offering customers Al-Manar, a television channel associated with Hezbollah. The case has legal experts and others wondering if a media outlet can be considered a terrorist organization.
NPR's Adam Davidson reports.
ADAM DAVIDSON reports:
The FBI raided Javed Iqbal's home in Staten Island and his small store in Brooklyn on Wednesday. He was arrested and is still in jail. He's hoping to get out on bail Monday. The U.S. Attorney's complaint says that in June, Iqbal offered a customer Al-Manar Television. In March of this year, the Treasury Department put Al-Manar TV on its list of terrorist organizations. Since then, it's illegal to do any sort of business with the Hezbollah-linked TV channel.
Iqbal's attorney, Mustapha Ndanusa, says he's working literally around the clock to get his client home.
Mr. MUSTAPHA NDANUSA (Defense Attorney): I was really, really tired. I even had bags under eyes and a long time until this morning.
DAVIDSON: Ndanusa says his client has a strong case against the charges.
Mr. NDANUSA: Just set the record straight, he's been accused of a conspiracy to violate the law.
DAVIDSON: Attorney Ndanusa says he's not sure Iqbal did ever sell the Al-Manar channel, and if he did, he might have been entrapped. And even if he wasn't entrapped, Ndanusa says, it might not be constitutional to outlaw a media outlet. Ndanusa is in discussions with the New York Civil Liberties Union, whose executive director is Donna Lieberman. She says they're trying to decide whether or not the case brings up civil liberty issues.
Ms. DONNA LIEBERMAN (New York Civil Liberties Union): We're going to be reviewing the legal papers and analyzing the statutes and trying to get whatever information we can about what really was going on here.
DAVIDSON: One of the things you're trying to figure out is, is this an issue for you. Right?
Ms. LIEBERMAN: Mm-hmm. It isn't, in fact, clear from the complaint what he's being charged with, or the constitutional validity of it.
DAVIDSON: Lieberman says it's perfectly constitutional for the government to outlaw businesses with direct operational ties to terrorist organizations. And it's legal to ban media outlets that directly incite and direct violent action. But Lieberman says she's nervous that the government is not trying to stop active terrorists in this case. It's trying to stop the spread of ideas.
Ms. LIEBERMAN: The government has a legitimate interest in prohibiting people from shouting fire in a crowded theater, but this is a far cry from that.
Mr. MARK DUBINSKY(ph) (Coalition Against Terrorist Media): Al-Manar is not only even yelling fire in a crowded movie theater, but by working with Hezbollah, arm in arm, in some respects it's providing the match, the gasoline and the arsonist.
DAVIDSON: Mark Dubinsky founded the Coalition Against Terrorist Media to in part stop Al-Manar. Until last year, Al-Manar was easily and legally available in the U.S. It even aired advertisements for big American companies like Pepsi and Coke, Dubinsky says.
Dubinsky and other activists successfully convinced most satellite providers to stop broadcasting the channel because of its disturbing content and because it's a part of Hezbollah. In this clip, from last November, provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute, a student tells a moderator what he thinks of Jews.
(Soundbite of Al-Manar broadcast)
Unidentified Man #1 (Through translator): Just like Hitler fought the Jews, we are a great Islamic nation of jihad and we too should fight the Jews and burn them.
Unidentified Man #2 (Through translator): Go ahead and fight. This is what we're looking for. We want some action.
DAVIDSON: But it's not like that all the time. In fact, much of the day is devoted to children's shows and music videos, cartoons and news broadcasts and interviews with political figures. Al-Manar might seem a lot like other popular Arabic satellite channels like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia. Mark Dubinsky.
Mr. DUBINSKY: But Al-Manar is very different. It's owned and operated by Hezbollah, financed by the Iranian regime. It has explicit calls for murder and incitement of violence. And it's working hand in glove with a terrorist organization that killed more Americans before 9/11 than any other.
DAVIDSON: Dubinsky says he doesn't oppose Al-Manar because of the opinions expressed on its shows. He says the most dangerous thing aired are the calls to send money to Hezbollah. Al-Manar, he says, sometimes broadcasts Hezbollah bank account numbers to make wire transfers easier. That, he says, is when Al-Manar stops being a media outlet protected by First Amendment rights and becomes an active operational component of a terrorist group.
Of course the NYCLU's Lieberman thinks Dubinksy's wrong. Al-Manar might indeed deserve First Amendment protection. This important question will surely be carefully looked at and discussed by possibly many courts before Javed Iqbal, that satellite TV provider from Staten Island, learns his fate.
Adam Davidson, NPR News, New York.
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