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WEST BANK: Palestinian officials succeed in taking TV political satire off the air

The worst fears of Imad Farajin, Palestinian actor and author of political satire and TV comedy show "Watan Ala Watar" ("Country on a String"), came true  Wednesday when the Palestinian Authority’s attorney general, Ahmad Mughani, ordered Palestine TV to stop broadcasting the locally produced show.

The show, aired nightly on Palestine TV, started broadcasting on the first day of the Muslim fast month of Ramadan. After a seemingly successful first year, the authors and producers of the short show decided to go for a second season.

However, its harsh and sarcastic criticism of Palestinian officials has upset them all; some decided to sue the show and Palestine TV and others put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to pull if off the air.

After 16 episodes, the attorney general decide to take action and issued an order shutting down the show, claiming it had offensive language and insulted senior officials.

Whether that was within his authority remains to be decided, but the decision was made and Palestine TV pulled the plug on the show.

“Freedom of opinion is guaranteed in the Palestinian law,” said Farajin, who saw the decision coming. “What the attorney general did was an outrageous infringement on freedom of opinion,” he said.

Farajin said he will not take the decision lightly, but will turn it into a public issue. He said he will go to court to challenge the attorney general’s decision, which he said came without even hearing their point of view.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, the official in charge of Palestine TV, grudgingly accepted the attorney general’s decision and immediately pulled the show off the air. He also questioned the legality of Mughani’s ruling.

“We are going to challenge that decision because if it was allowed to hold, it will set a dangerous precedent that could also affect other works, and there are signs this might happen,” he said.

He expressed concern that the attorney general, who appointed himself in charge of artistic works, may take action in the future against any TV show, or play or painting, or a song or even a newspaper article.

“If the attorney general believes he now has the power to stop any artistic or creative work, we will be then facing a major catastrophe that will affect all freedoms,” said Abed Rabbo.

The attorney general defended his decision. “The 1960 criminal law (a Jordanian law) gives the attorney general the right to take proper legal action under the article that talks about slander against the authority,” said Mughani.

“We believe in freedoms and we defend it,” he added. “But this program included obscene language that touched esteemed and respected symbols of the Palestinian people.”

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

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