Thu Apr 23, 2009 6:39pm EDT
By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A Pakistani man was sentenced in New York to more than five and a half years in prison on Thursday for broadcasting the Hezbollah television channel Al Manar and selling it to U.S. customers.
In one of U.S. prosecutors’ more unusual terrorism cases, Javed Iqbal, a 45-year-old Pakistani citizen living in New York, was charged with supporting Hezbollah in 2006. He pleaded guilty to the charges in December.
“I did not make a profit off of broadcasting Al Manar and it cost me my life,” Iqbal’s lawyer, Joshua Dratel, read out in a prepared statement on behalf of Iqbal which included an apology to the judge before he was sentenced to 69 months.
“I am a human being and human beings make mistakes,” Dratel said on behalf of Iqbal, who owned a small satellite television company, HDTV Ltd.
The U.S. Treasury branded Al Manar a terrorist organization in March 2006, saying it supported Hezbollah’s fund-raising and recruitment activities.
Prosecutors said Iqbal, who moved to the United States more than 26 years ago, provided transmission services to the Beirut-based channel in return for payment between 2005 and 2006 and then sold the channel to U.S. customers.
“He was, in a very real sense, Hezbollah’s man in New York City,” prosecutor Eric Snyder said during the sentencing hearing, adding Hezbollah used the channel to recruit new members.
But Iqbal’s defense lawyer Joshua Dratel said Iqbal had no ideological support for Hezbollah and sold the channel to make money as part of his satellite television business that also included Christian channels and adult entertainment.
Iqbal was broke and the charges “had devastated him and his family,” including his pregnant wife who sat behind him in court and five children, Dratel said. He also suffered from anxiety and depression.
“This is someone who made bad judgments for a reason that had nothing to do with terrorism or supporting terrorism and he paid a very high price for it,” Dratel said after the hearing.
He added he believed it was the only terrorism case in the U.S. courts that had been brought against a person providing satellite services.
A second man, Saleh Elahwal, who also worked for the company, has also pleaded guilty.
(Editing by Michelle Nichols)