The prosecution of a Pakistani businessman accused of enabling customers to receive satellite broadcasts of a Hizbullah television station is drawing fresh scrutiny over how far the government can go in claiming someone is aiding terrorist groups.
Experts say the case of Javed Iqbal, who was arrested Wednesday on conspiracy charges, is unusual because the charges stem from the distribution of news.
US Attorney Michael Garcia alleges that Iqbal, a 42-year-old Pakistani from New York City's Staten Island borough, conspired to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a law normally used to bar direct financial aid to terrorist groups or to stop sales of products or services that could help the groups.
Some civil liberties advocates say the prosecution appears to ignore exemptions in the law that cover distribution of media - including news wire feeds, tapes, photographs and more.
The charges against Iqbal resulted from his alleged efforts to distribute Al Manar, purportedly a media outlet arm of Lebanon-based Hizbullah that features programming promoting the group. The US government designated Al Manar a terrorist entity in March. Hizbullah, a leading Shiite network which engages in militant as well as political and social welfare activities, was classified as a terrorist group by the government in 1997.
"This is a prosecution for importing information, basically," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "That raises serious First Amendment concerns because in a free society the exchange of information of ideas is at the core."