The Palestinian Authority is happy to boast that it operates according to the values of democracy but when it comes to freedom of the press they seem to have followed the example of the Arab dictatorships.
A harsh report published Wednesday by Human Rights Watch exposes the harassment, abuse and arrests of journalists in the West bank and Gaza Strip by Palestinian Authority and Hamas security forces.
The report documents the testimonies of journalists who were beaten and arrested for no apparent reason. Some noted that among other things, Palestinian Authority officials confiscated their equipment.
The report also expresses harsh criticism towards the Palestinian leadership for not acting to prevent the beatings and harassment, or trying to punish those that carry out the acts. This is why the report determined that the actions taken against the journalists reflect Palestinian government policy.
Freedom of speech? (Archive photo: Reuters)
Moreover, the report reveals that reporters in the Palestinian territories have become part of the ongoing struggle between Fatah and Hamas. As attempts of reconciliation between the two factions increased in recent months – so have the number of attacks carried out by security forces against members of the press.
In one of the cases described in the report 15 members of plain-clothes Hamas' security forces raided the Reuters news agency offices in the Gaza Strip, smashed computers, beat journalists, aimed a weapon at one journalist and threatened to throw another journalist out the window.
In another case, a Palestinian military court in Jenin sentenced television journalist Tariq Abu Zeid, 34, to 18 months in prison despite two civilian court rulings ordering his release. Abu Zeid was the northern West Bank correspondent for the Hamas-affiliated Al Aqsa television station, and had worked for the Gaza-based Al-Risala newspaper, also considered to be pro-Hamas.
The court convicted and sentenced him on February 16 for “prejudicing the status” and “opposing the public policy” of the Palestinian Authority.
Freelance journalists that are suspected of researching articles critical of the Palestinian Authority are arrested and interrogated. For example, the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence Service (GIS) detained Muhannad Salahat, a freelance journalist and filmmaker, when he was returning to the West Bank from Jordan without telling him why he was being arrested; he was detained for two weeks without charge in Jericho.
According to Human Rights Watch deputy director of Middle East and North Africa division Joe Stork, Palestinian security forces are becoming notorious for intimidating journalists who are just trying to do their jobs. He says both rival Palestinian governments need to end what he calls "blatant attacks on free expression"
Following the publication of the report, the organization called on the US and EU to stipulate that their financial support for the security forces within the Palestinian Authority and Hamas government is dependent on taking action to convict and punish security forces personnel responsible for abusing journalists.
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