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Pearl video returns to Web site after FBI complaint

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    NMU         VIRGINIA         Prior Restraints         May 30, 2002    

Pearl video returns to Web site after FBI complaint

  • A Virginia web hosting company reposted the videotape of a Wall Street Journal reporter’s murder after one of its customers took it down following threats from the FBI.

A videotape of the gruesome murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl reappeared on a Virginia Web site on May 28 following its removal in response to threats of obscenity charges made by the FBI last week.

In a letter to viewers of the videotape, Theodore Hickman Jr., president of Pro Hosters, an Internet company in Sterling, Va., indicated that the First Amendment allows for publication of the tape and that Americans can decide whether they want to watch it based on their own systems of morality. Pro Hosters provides web hosting for about 30,000 Web sites on 200 servers.

“In my opinion it should not be hidden or swept under the carpet, it should be available to anyone who chooses to watch it,” Hickman wrote. “We have a right to see what terrorism can and will do to our nation, if it is not eradicated at the source.”

The videotape was first posted by Hickman’s customer,, a Web Site that contains a gallery of graphic videos and images. Hickman said he received a phone call on May 23 from an FBI agent who requested the video be removed from the site and indicated that its publication was in violation of obscenity laws.

According to the New York Times, the FBI contacted several Web sites and requested the video be removed out of consideration for Pearl’s family.

Hickman said he did not immediately censor the site but consulted with the site’s owner, Dany Klinker of the Netherlands, about removing the video. Their initial decision to remove the video was in response to the FBI’s “intimidating requests” to take it down. However, after consulting with legal counsel from the American Civil Liberties Union, Hickman returned the video to and posted it on his Web site with a letter to viewers.

While federal obscenity laws do exist, they apply only to matter which “appeals to the prurient interest in sex” and lacks “serious scientific, literary, artistic or political value.” The Pearl video shows a beheading and other violent scenes but it does not appear to be sexual in nature and likely would not be classified as prohibited speech under obscenity standards.

According to Wired News, unedited versions of the video are also available on other online sites by Yahoo’s Geocities and Usenet.

The four-minute videotape of Pearl’s execution was given to the U.S. consulate in February and copies eventually surfaced in the media. This past month, CBS New broadcast a 30-second excerpt of the video despite requests by the departments of State and Justice not to air segments of the tape.

Anchor Dan Rather defended the broadcast as necessary to “understand the full impact and danger of the propaganda war being waged.”


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