Islam Channel CEO released

2010-01-26 17:31

Johannesburg - The CEO of the UK-based broadcaster Islam Channel, arrested at OR Tambo International Airport at the weekend, was released on Tuesday.

"He is planning to head back home to his family in the UK," Media Review Network chairperson Iqbal Jassat said.

"The only condition of his release is that he report back to the Pretoria High Court in two months for processes on an interdict we were granted, preventing him from being extradited to Tunisia."

Muhammed Ali Harrath, 47, will be back in London on Thursday.

"We hope that this will also lead to his blacklisting being reversed."

Earlier on Tuesday Harrath was moved from a hospital he was at to cells at Moot police station in Pretoria. He was at the hospital from Sunday because he fell ill shortly after his arrest.

"He has a heart condition and took ill after the arrest," Jassat said.

Red flag notice

Harrath, who appears on Interpol's most wanted list, was arrested on Sunday when his passport was scanned on arrival in Johannesburg and showed a red flag notice - used by Interpol to track the movement of people on its wanted list.

He is the CEO of Islam Channel, a UK-based television channel broadcast on DSTV.

The Media Review Network, in co-operation with the non-governmental Organisation for the Protection of Constitutional Democracy, applied early on Monday morning for an interdict to prevent him from being extradited to his home country Tunisia. Jassat said Harrath was a political refugee who sought asylum in the UK, after leaving Tunisia about 20 years ago.

"He is a refugee who didn't commit any crime, apart from being a human rights activist back then."

Hawks spokesperson Musa Zondi confirmed his release.

"We could not oppose his release... one of the reasons for this was that we did not receive any information from the Tunisian government... this man is also very ill, and to keep him here in that condition would be inhumane," Zondi said.

Faces death penalty

Jassat said if Harrath were to be sent back to Tunisia, he faced the death penalty as the maximum sentence, or a minimum of life imprisonment, apparently for his political activism.

"We all know the dismal human rights records that Tunisia displays," he said.

Harrath told Sapa he was happy to be going back home, but what happened to him should not have been allowed to happen in the first place.

"There's just a feeling that injustice has been done. This was an issue from 20-years ago... a political matter that happened back in Tunisia. I was fighting for justice and I am proud of what I did... I consider myself as a friend of South Africa, who knows more than anyone about injustice."

He said the arrest sparked his illness.

"This shouldn't have happened, but I hope we can put this behind us."

Harrath said his visit to South Africa involved investment deals, and he was planning to move most of his productions to the country.

"I was also supposed to set up a call centre (for the channel)... my plan is to create hundreds of jobs here."