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Satilite television provider convicted for supporting Al-Manar Televsion
A Guilty Plea in Providing Satellite TV for Hezbollah
By BENJAMIN WEISER
Published: December 23, 2008
A Staten Island businessman pleaded guilty on Tuesday in Manhattan to a single federal count of assisting terrorists by providing satellite television services to Hezbollah’s television station, Al Manar.
The plea by the defendant, Javed Iqbal, 45, came weeks before he was to be tried in a case that had received wide attention after defense lawyers argued that the prosecution of Mr. Iqbal and a co-defendant for providing satellite TV services violated their First Amendment rights.
But Judge Richard M. Berman of United States District Court rejected that view last year, ruling that the prosecution was based not on the content of speech but on conduct — allegations that the men provided material support to a foreign terrorist group.
In court on Tuesday, Mr. Iqbal admitted that his company, HDTV Ltd., received money for providing television services to Al Manar — “the beacon” in Arabic — which the United States Treasury Department has designated a global terrorist entity.
Prosecutors have said Hezbollah operated Al Manar in Lebanon as a way to raise money and recruit volunteers for attacks.
“Are you aware of Al Manar’s relationship to Hezbollah?” Judge Berman asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Iqbal said.
The judge asked whether Mr. Iqbal knew that Hezbollah had been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.
“Yes,” Mr. Iqbal repeated.
Mr. Iqbal, who was born in Pakistan and came to the United States as a teenager, was originally indicted on 11 counts, including providing material support to a terrorist organization, conspiracy and other charges.
The office of Lev L. Dassin, the acting United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, has agreed to dismiss the other charges as part of the plea.
Judge Berman told Mr. Iqbal that on the count of providing material support, he could face up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced on March 24.
Mr. Iqbal’s plea deal says both sides have agreed that a sentence of about 5 to 6 ½ years would be reasonable.
Judge Berman agreed to allow Mr. Iqbal to remain free through the holidays after a prosecutor, David S. Leibowitz, said the government did not object as long as Mr. Iqbal was sent to prison soon afterward. . The judge said he would review the matter at a hearing in early January.
After the plea, neither Mr. Iqbal nor his lawyer, Aaron Mysliwiec, would comment.
The co-defendant, Saleh Elahwal, Mr. Iqbal’s business associate, still faces trial.
Mr. Iqbal, who was arrested in 2006, ran his satellite programming operation from a Brooklyn storefront and out of the garage of his modest home in Mariners Harbor, Staten Island, which had satellite dishes in the backyard.
In seeking to have the indictment dismissed, defense lawyers said in court papers that “core First Amendment values — speech and the right to publish news and information,” were at stake in the case.
The Hezbollah television station “broadcasts their ideas,” one lawyer, Joshua L. Dratel, argued in court last year.
“That’s why this particular prosecution cannot survive First Amendment scrutiny,” he said.
But prosecutors told the judge that the First Amendment did not protect the defendants’ activities. They said the indictment had been carefully drafted to emphasize that the subject of the prosecution was the defendants’ conduct in their business relationship with Hezbollah and Al Manar, without reference to the station’s content.
Judge Berman agreed in his 2007 ruling. “I don’t think the case is about content,” he said. “I don’t think it’s about protected speech or advocacy. I don’t think it’s about defendants’ right to say what they wish, to write what they wish, to publish what they wish or even to broadcast what they wish.”
Rather, he said, the case was about “whether the defendants ran afoul of legitimate laws designed to help protect against terrorism — for example, by providing aid to terrorist organizations — and that is also a fundamental government concern.”