Journalist deported from Israel says he was tricked into signing statement

Editor of Palestinian news agency accuses authorities of duping him into making a statement in detention agreeing to return to to US voluntarily.

TEL AVIV // An American journalist expelled from Israel earlier this week has accused authorities of duping him into making a statement while in detention in which he agreed to return to the United States voluntarily. Jared Malsin, who spent the past two-and-a-half years as an editor for the Palestinian news agency Maan, was detained by authorities at Ben Gurion International Airport on January 12, as he tried to return to the West Bank after a holiday in Prague.

After being interrogated for eight hours, Mr Malsin was deemed a "security risk", refused entry to Israel and told he would be deported. According to court records obtained by Maan, Israel accused the Jewish American of being unco-operative, lying to border officials and violating the terms of his visa. He was held in detention at the airport for eight days while he sought to challenge the ban, before, according to Israel, he agreed to drop his legal challenge and leave the country.

But Mr Malsin, 24, who arrived back in New York on Thursday, said he was deceived into signing a statement which effectively closed the case and sealed his deportation. Speaking to The National, Mr Malsin said two guards came into his cell on Tuesday afternoon, after his lawyer had left, and said he was free to leave, provided he make a statement in writing. "They came to me and said 'You can go, you just have to sign this piece of paper.' They led me to believe it was a formality - I didn't know I was going to be deported. And there was never any indication that this would affect the legal issue at all.

"If I could go back I would have refused to sign [the paper] and would have demanded that my lawyer be involved. I had so little access to information about my own case and had very little grasp of what the issues were," he said. "I was misled." Maan and press freedom advocates say they are concerned that the move to deny him entry was due to articles he had written criticising Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

The International Federation of Journalists said it was an "intolerable violation of press freedom" and "appeared to be a reprisal measure for the journalist's independent reporting". The Israeli government denies this. Sabine Haddad, a spokeswoman for the ministry of the interior, said the decision to detain and deport Mr Malsin was based on his "refusal to co-operate". "[Malsin] arrived at the border, authorities asked him to answer questions, and he refused," she said. "This is a minimal right of a country to ask questions of anyone who wants to enter."

She said Mr Malsin decided to end his legal challenge as he no longer wanted to remain at the airport, where he been detained in a small cell with just 10 minutes outside a day. "Two days ago he decided that he didn't want to stay in the airport anymore. That's it." Ms Haddad also said authorities did not know Mr Malsin was a journalist when they stopped him, although this is something the American strongly challenges.

"They [the officials who conducted the questioning] said that they were able to search around on the internet and read some of my work - They made it clear that they were unhappy that I was 'critical of Israel' - this is their language." Despite his ordeal, Mr Malsin hopes to return to the West Bank to resume his life and his work. In the meantime, his lawyer plans to challenge the closure of his case because of "a lack of transparency".

* The National