High Court orders government to respond to petition against so-called Al Jazeera law

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Police raid the Al Jazeera offices in Jerusalem on May 5, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Police raid the Al Jazeera offices in Jerusalem on May 5, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice orders the government to respond to a petition demanding the annulment of a temporary law that allows the government to shutter foreign news outlets, on the basis that the law harms freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The court instructs the government to file its response by August 5, or alternatively to inform the court that it will not be extending the law’s duration when it expires on July 31.

The petition claims that the temporary law, passed in April in order to shut down the Al Jazeera news network in Israel, is unconstitutional due to alleged harm it does to the separation of powers, the rule of law, and the independence of the judicial authority.

The court says it is issuing the order “without taking a position, and given that we are talking about a law of an unprecedented nature for which it is fitting that it be reviewed by an expanded panel [of justices]” and that the government must explain why the law should not be annulled.

Such orders flip the burden of proof from the petitioners to the respondents, indicating that the court has concerns over the constitutionality of the law.

After the law was passed in April, Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi with approval of the government ordered that Al Jazeera be shuttered for a 45-day period on May 5. The channel’s broadcasts were taken off air, its website blocked in Israel, and its equipment seized.

The Tel-Aviv Jaffa District Court approved Karhi’s order last week but reduced its duration to 35 days, meaning that the ban has now expired.

Al Jazeera has said it will resume broadcasts from Israel tomorrow, unless the government renews the ban today.

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