Javed Iqbal, 42, was arrested on Wednesday on allegations that his Brooklyn-based company HDTV Ltd. was providing New York-area satellite customers with the Hizbullah-operated channel, federal prosecutors said in a statement on Thursday.
Defense lawyers said Iqbal had done no wrong, branded the arrest as a violation of his free-speech rights, and linked it to the recent fighting between Israel and Hizbullah in which al-Manar broadcast news and propaganda for Hizbullah and was attacked by Israeli air strikes.
A fragile UN-brokered truce between Israel and Hizbullah came into effect on August 14 after a month of fighting that killed more than 1,300 people, mostly Lebanese civilians.
Iqbal, who moved to the United States from Pakistan when he was 18, has been charged with conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
'Like the government of Iran'
Federal authorities searched HDTV's Brooklyn office and Iqbal's Staten Island home, where he was suspected of maintaining satellite dishes, the statement said.
The US Treasury Department froze the US assets of al-Manar in March, saying it supported fund-raising and recruitment activities of Hizbullah, a Shiite Muslim group backed by Syria and Iran.
At that time al-Manar was designated a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity, making it a crime to conduct business with al-Manar, prosecutors said.
"It's like the government of Iran saying we are going to ban the New York Times because we think of it as a terrorist outfit, or China saying we will ban CNN," said Farhan Memon, a spokesman for the law firm Ndanusa and Davis, which is representing Iqbal.
"America would be hopping up and down crying freedom of speech and freedom of the press," Memon said.
On July 12, the Israeli military destroyed the channel's five-story Lebanese headquarters but al-Manar quickly returned to the air, the station's head of public relations said.
Al-Manar devoted wide coverage to the Israeli-Hizbullah war, broadcasting exclusive footage shot by Hizbullah guerrillas.
The European Union decided to take the channel off European satellites last year.