Last updated: 6 December, 2011

UN envoy visits Israel and Palestinians

The United Nations special rapporteur for freedom of expression starts a fact-finding mission to Israel and the Palestinians on Tuesday, the first since the unpaid post was created in 1993.

A UN statement said Argentinian Frank La Rue would meet Palestinians from December 6-11 and would be in Israel from December 12-17.

“During my mission, I will meet with government officials from both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, as well as with human rights defenders, journalists and media professionals, individuals and UN agencies to gather first-hand information,” he said in the statement.

La Rue said he would be examining “the situation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of the media.”

The visit comes as Israeli MPs have been mulling a series of draft bills slammed by critics as “anti-democratic” including one which would dramatically increase penalties for “defamatory” articles in the press, on a radio or television broadcast, or even on Facebook.

Another draft law seeks to limit foreign government funding to Israeli NGOs that oppose Israeli occupation and settlement in the Palestinian territories.

Opponents of the bills are to hold a mass protest in Tel Aviv on Friday as part of the annual Human Rights March.

Last month, Israel’s communications ministry ordered the closure of an Israeli-Palestinian radio station, accusing it of operating a pirate broadcast because it is licenced in the Palestinian territories.

On the Palestinian side, rights groups and media freedom watchdogs have criticised the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas rulers of Gaza for harassing journalists.