Press freedom vs. state security: Israel's Anat Kam faces jail for leaking army files
Israel today lifted a gag order on Israeli media reporting on the case of Anat Kam, who allegedly passed up to 2,000 classified army documents to the newspaper Haaretz. The case has raised fresh questions about whether press freedom is being sacrificed for state security.
The details of a controversial media case involving the transfer of secret Israeli army documents to a top Israeli newspaper were finally released on Thursday, pushing into the limelight the ways in which state security concerns here vie with – and sometimes trump – democratic values, especially press freedom.Skip to next paragraph
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Amid increased pressure to lift a gag order that was issued by a local Tel Aviv area magistrate court, the court cleared for publication on Thursday accusations that Anat Kam, a 23-year-old internet reporter, had stolen documents while she was serving in the Israeli army's Central Command office. She then provided the material to a senior reporter at Haaretz, Israel's center-left paper of record, who ran several stories based on the documents, an indictment filed against Ms. Kam in January says.
The resulting articles included an explosive story by the Haaretz journalist, Uri Blau, who showed that the army used targeted assassinations against wanted Palestinians even when they knew that arrest was possible, in apparent violation of Israeli Supreme Court rulings.
The case has unearthed – not for the first time – what advocates of civil liberties see as one of the more troubling features of life in a state perpetually in conflict with its neighbors: limits on freedom of the press. But to those primarily concerned about how to get the upper hand in an unfriendly region, censorship and secrecy play a crucial role in the seemingly never-ending war.
"This is part of a wider attack on freedom of speech in recent years, which includes harassment of demonstrators as well as court orders of censorship," says Dan Yakir, chief legal council for the Association for Civil Right in Israel (ACRI). "These are worrying signs. It shakes fundamental notions of civil liberties in a democracy."
Mr. Yakir led the push to get the court to release the gag order, along with Haaretz, Israel's Channel 10, and – finally, on Thursday – Israel's own attorney general. Pressure had mounted as details were already being reported in foreign newspapers in recent days.
Some gag orders are issued because they involve minors or other people deserving of protection, he says. But often, as in this case, the army or law enforcement authorities only have to declare something a "security" issue for there to be a total blackout.
"Magistrate judges quite easily issue gag orders based on requests from the security forces and the police, without any consideration as to the freedom of press and the right of the public to know," says Yakir.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement applauding the decision to lift the gag order on Thursday.
“We welcome the lifting of the gag order imposed in the case of a former soldier charged with leaking military documents,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Possible violations of the Supreme Court’s decisions constitute a legitimate news story, and the Israeli media must be allowed to report on it.”