Israeli parliamentarians question censor

Feb. 12, 2013 at 2:15 PM
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JERUSALEM, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Israeli Knesset members blew the cover off an Israeli-censored story, reported abroad, concerning an alleged Australian national who died in an Israeli jail.

The incident occurred as Justice Minister Ya'acov Ne'eman delivered his final speech as minister before the Knesset on Tuesday afternoon.

"An article was published that an Australian prisoner committed suicide under a different identity. Do you know about the situation? Do you confirm that it occurred?" Arab Knesset member Ahmed Tibi asked Ne'eman, The Jerusalem Post said.

Tibi was referring to a report by Australia's ABC news earlier in the day which alleged an Australian national, said to have worked for the Israeli intelligence Mossad agency, committed suicide in an Israeli jail in December 2010.

"Are there people in prisons whose incarceration is kept secret? What are the supervision mechanisms on this kind of imprisonment?" Knesset member Dov Henin asked, the Post said.

Knesset member Zehava Gal-On questioned the censorship system in Israel and asked the justice minister what his position was concerning journalists who agree to censoring information at the government's request. She was referring to a meeting earlier in the day at the Prime Minister's office.

"I want to stress, all issues concerning the prison system is not the responsibility of the Justice Ministry. I don't know how to answer your questions. You must raise them with the Minister of Internal Security Affairs who is responsible for the prisons. However, if what you say is correct, it requires an examination," Channel 10 quoted Ne'eman saying.

In the morning, the prime minister's office and the military censor invited the editors of all Israeli media outlets to a meeting to brief them about the story reported by ABC, which is still subject to a sweeping gag order in Israel. The forum is called the Editor's Committee. An agreement signed in 1996 binds the editors not to share information discussed at the meeting as it constitutes a high security risk, even if other sources report it, the Post said.

Indeed, the Australian ABC's Foreign Correspondent program reported earlier in the day that it has evidence showing that Israel's infamous Prisoner X jailed in 2010 was an Australian national called Ben Zygier, who also used the name of Ben Alon in Israel. He was found hanged in a high security prison cell near Tel Aviv in December 2010, the report said. Neither the Israeli government nor the jail system acknowledged his presence in the country.

The report claims he was held incommunicado and suggested he worked for the Mossad. His body was flown back to Australia for burial, the report said. Family members refused to discuss the issue, the report said.

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