Friday, January 22, 2010

Malsin: No such thing as voluntary deportation

Bethlehem – Ma'an – Upon landing in New York on Thursday, Ma'an News Agency's Jared Malsin, a US citizen, said Interior Ministry staff pressured him into dropping a legal challenge against his deportation order just two hours after his lawyer left for the day.

After signing a hand-written letter that Malsin said he believed was a "formality," ministry staff sent the paper to District Judge Kobi Vardi, who had presided over Malsin's case, and the judge decided to lift the stay of deportation order.

A motion from Ma'an attorney Castro Daoud, requesting that his client's hearing continue in his absence, was filed and pending decision as the ruling to expel the journalist was made.

Malsin was subsequently placed onto an El Al flight to New York. "None of this was my decision," he emphasized in a phone interview minutes after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport early Thursday morning local time, rejecting reports that he left Israel voluntarily. "There's no such thing as a voluntary deportation. I was deported, period."

Hours earlier, in an armored car en route to the plane, Malsin said he was unaware there were legal implications to the paper. "I had no idea I was waving anything, no clue," he said, explaining how Interior Ministry officials coerced him into creating a legal document to withdraw his case without an attorney present, and offered a misleading explanation over what he was signing.

The document apparently indicated Malsin was leaving the facility "without personal coercion." But Malsin said he was under the impression that the papers he signed would allow him to simply leave the airport while his case continued in Israel.

Indeed, Daoud had filed such a motion in Tel Aviv shortly before Malsin was instructed to sign the papers. Justice Vardi had called for a hearing on Malsin's case on Tuesday, and when no date was set for the proceedings by the afternoon, Malsin and Daoud decided to seek permission for him to leave the detention center as the hearing went forward. Daoud had previously indicated concern that Malsin's case was being dragged out, putting pressure on the journalist to leave before a legal decision was made.

In an e-mail from Malsin to Ma'an staff sent upon his arrival to his parents' home in New Hampshire, he said, about the paper, "I thought it was a formality. In retrospect I wish I hadn't signed it. I believe the prison guards were extremely manipulative, misleading, mendacious in the way they dealt with me," he said, but "I'm just so relieved to be out."

Israel's explanation

Malsin's deportation was met with mixed reactions from Israeli officials.

Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad told The Associated Press that Malsin raised security suspicions during an investigation upon his arrival. Hadad told the AP it was for these reasons that Malsin was being deported.

Then she told Israel's Hebrew-language Yedioth Ahronoth that he had voluntarily left Israel, adding, "I guess he didn't like it [detention] and chose to leave the country."

Allegations of Malsin being a security risk were made even at the start of the deportation process, with documents alleging Malsin's failure to cooperate with Israeli intelligence officers constituting such a threat.

The same day Hadad told the AP Malsin was a security threat, however, she was quoted by Reuters and the Washington Post as denying Malsin was refused a visa for political or security reasons.

Both rationales fit with some of the allegations in the court documents filed by the attorney general, but neither explanation took the full range of charges into account. Among the Interior Ministry's complaints were that Malsin had authored articles "inside the [Palestinian] territories," including some "criticizing the State of Israel."

Early in Malsin's detention, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, told the BBC that the allegations Malsin was being held because of his status as a journalist were "absurd."

Support for Malsin's case

While Regev denied Malsin's deportation had anything to do with journalism, international press associations condemned the detention as a violation of press freedom from the beginning.

"We condemn this intolerable violation of press freedom," said Aidan White, the head of the International Federation of Journalists, the largest union of media professionals worldwide.

"The ban of entry in this case appears to be as a reprisal measure for the journalist's independent reporting and that is unacceptable," he said. "This kind of interference has no place in a democracy."