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Radio director faces trial after criticising Health Directorate

(MADA/IFEX) - Ramallah – 15 September 2011 - The Magistrate Court of Bethlehem today issued the decision to release Radio Bethlehem 2000 director George Canawati on bail, with the provision that he appear again before the court on 3 October 2011, following charges of libel and slander filed by Bethlehem's Governor Abelfatah Hamayel.

Canawati published a note critical of Bethlehem's Health Directorate on his Facebook page and criticised the presence of Israeli products on the table at a department managers' meeting on 8 September 2011.

Canawati told MADA that after the publication the governor summoned him to his office. Canawati obliged and met with the governor and other health department staff, where he faced questions over his reasons for writing the note. The governor then requested that Canawati delete the note from his site, to which he responded that the note was not a personal attack, but was written to highlight the indifference and neglect in the Health Directorate and to encourage department staff to instigate change.

Canawati added: "I removed the article but received a surprise call from the Bethlehem Court offices on Sunday informing me that the governor had filed a complaint against me and that my presence was required at their headquarters. I went and gave my statement and they told me to return to the court the following day. I returned as requested, accompanied by my lawyer, Anton Salman. I was questioned further and my lawyer presented my defence, after which the judge decided to grant me bail and told me to reappear before the court on 3 October 2011.

Canawati's lawyer, Anton Salman, said "The plaintiff in the case must demonstrate that the comments had a personal negative effect on their life or livelihood in order to prove libel and slander was committed. In my opinion, the governor has not been affected by the article and therefore the complaint is not valid; I filed my defence yesterday on this basis."

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) expresses its concern over Canawati's trail on the basis of writing criticism, particularly as he did so without criminal intent or personal abuse, and that it was written with the motive of encouraging improvements in the Directorate of Health's departments. MADA calls upon the concerned authorities to respect freedom of opinion and expression.

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