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Media Freedom Violations in oPt Report: August 2011

MADA: A new setback for media freedoms in the last month

Ramallah – 12 September 2011: Freedom of expression in Palestine faced a new setback in August with journalists subjected to further violations. Israeli occupation forces committed numerous violations, including arrests, detentions, attacks and the prevention from coverage.

Despite the expectations of a continued decrease of Palestinian security service violations, the numbers of incidences were both higher and more varied, including major threats to freedom of expression and the right of access to information.

IOF arrests 3 journalists

Israeli occupation forces arrested 3 journalists in the West Bank in August, 2 of which remain in custody, bringing the total number of Palestinian journalists incarcerated in Israeli jails to 4.

On 8 May 2011 the IOF arrested the West Bank’s Felesteen newspaper office director Walid Khalid, and Al-Quds TV program coordinator Nawaf Al-Amer on 28 June 2011, and on 9th of August 2011, arrested the Al-Jazeera Afghanistan Bureau Chief Samer Allawy while crossing the Alkarameh/Allenby border from the West Bank to Jordan after spending his annual vacation with family in Sabastya village near Nablus city. Shihab agency correspondent Amer Abu Arafeh was later arrested on 21 August 2011 and sentenced to 6 months administration detention. At the end of the month, 28 August 2011 Aqsa TV cameraman Osaid Amarneh was released on after one week in IOF custody.

In addition to arrests, IOF personnel also committed various additional violations, such as the attack against on Aljazeera channel crew – cameraman Nabil Mizawi and correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh – while covering Friday prayers on 19 August 2011, and the detention of a group of journalists preparing to cover the peaceful march against the Wall in Al Walajeh village, near Bethlehem city.

Increase in Palestinian violations

The number of Palestinian violations has seen a significant increase in August compared to the previous 3 months which had seen improvement. In the Gaza Strip, members of the internal security services of the Hamas government prevented Alhuriya Lil’lam center correspondent Wisam Zogbor from filming in the Alrimal area in Gaza on Friday 17 August 2011. Internal security services also summoned WAFA Agency correspondent Fathi Tbeil on Thursday 18 August 2011, after reporting on solidarity sit –in with the Palestinian refugees of Alrimal camp in Syria which was shelled by Syrian forces. Police members of the Hamas government also attacked a WAFA agency correspondent while preparing a report in Khanyounis. In addition to internal security, Palestine Voice correspondent Tamim Muamar, faced 2 hours of interrogation by the internal security in Gaza border at the Rafah crossing before allowing him to travel to Egypt.

In the West Bank, the journalists Majdolen Hasouneh was summoned for investigation at the Nablus headquarters of the preventative security service on Wednesday 3 August 2011, when she refused to appear before the headquarters as requested, the security services retaliated by arresting 2 of her brothers. The preventative security service also arrested Radio Alam presenter Muntaser Nassar at his home in Hebron city on Saturday 20 August 2011. Writer and academic Dr. Abdel Sater Qasem was arrested and held in custody for many days following the publishing of an article he had written, and released following a personal appeal from President Mahmoud Abbas.

Additionally in August, the Palestinian Attorney General issued in Ramallah final orders sanctioning the forcible suspension of the programme WATAN 3 WATAR on Palestine Public TV.

Conclusion and Recommendations:

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) strongly condemns all the Israeli violations against press freedom in the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly the illegal arrests of journalists, which stand in direct contravention to article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. MADA calls upon all formal and informal institutions of the International community to intervene immediately and petition the release of the 4 journalists currently held in Israeli prisons, and to hold accountable all parties in Israel responsible for the continued violations.

MADA additionally denounces all Palestinian security service perpetrated violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and expresses its deep concern over the remarkable decline on freedom of expression in the past month. MADA demands that the concerned authorities halt all violations and respect freedom of expression, guaranteed under the auspices of Palestinian Basic Law, particularly article 19, which states: “Every person shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and expression, and shall have the right to publish his opinion orally, in writing, or in any form of art, or through any other form of expression, provided that it does not contradict with the provisions of law”, and to hold accountable all responsible for the violations.

Details and Testimony of Violations

3rd August Preventative security service in Nablus city summoned journalists Majdoleen Hassouneh for investigation on Wednesday 3 August 2011. Hassouneh said that she received a call from preventative security ordering her to go immediately to their headquarters. Hassouneh refused, citing the summons as illegal. The following day members of the preventative security services came to her house and handed her a written summons for Saturday 6 August 2011 which she published through media outlets. Hasouneh added: “after that they came to my house at night and arrested my 2 brothers Mohamad and Muhsen in order to pressure me into going to their headquarter, but I didn’t go. When their summons was published in the media, the government media center intervened and secured the release of my brothers, however they continue to summon them for investigation, most recently on the 15th August”. Hassouneh has speculated that the summons came as a result of her coverage of a sit-in in solidarity with the families of political detainees in Nablus, after of hers friend told her that the security members asked about her while she was covering the event.

9th August Al Jazeera Afghanistan channel director, Samer Allawy, was arrested on Tuesday 9 August 2011 by Israeli Occupation Forces. Allawy was arrested while crossing the Alkarameh/Allenby border from the West Bank to Jordan after spending his annual vacation with family in Sabastya village Nablus city. Allawy’s brother, Musáb Allawy, told MADA that he was contacted on Wednesday by Israeli occupation authorities informing him of his brother’s arrest. Officers did not provide a reason for his brother’s arrest, but confirmed that Allawy was in IOF custody and would be moved to Aljalameh prison - in the Israeli territories north of Jenin - for 4 days of investigation. A representative of the Al Jazeera offices in Ramallah told MADA that Allawy had come to the West Bank to spend his annual vacation with his wife and children and confirmed that Allawy had visited the Palestinian territories numerous times before without problems. Allawy still remains in custody where Israeli authorities have extended his detention several times.

11th August The website of electronic newspaper Alshu’la was suspended for one week in the West Bank on 11 August 2011. The website officer Saher Alaqra’ said that after communicating with the technical crew in the website and Palestinian Telecommunication Company, it was clear that PTC was behind the website block. Alaqra’ added that he contacted a number of the company’s officials but in vain, so they were forced to download the website through a new server. A complaint was filed against the PTC to the Attorney General Ahmad Almughany

17th August The Internal security services of the Hamas government in Gaza prevented Alhuriya Lil’lam center correspondent Wissam Zogbor from filming in Alrimal area in Gaza. The incident took place on Friday 17 August 2011. Zogbor said that he went to make a report about Ramadan, youth movements and the atmosphere surrounding the political reconciliation in Gaza, at which time he was approached by about 20 members of the security services who ordered him to stop filming and confiscated his camera and identity card. Zogbor added: “after that they asked me to go to the Alabas center for investigation to sign a paper confirming that they had taken my camera. The next day I arrived at their headquarters to collect my possessions, but they refused to return my ID card and told me to return the following day. I went but they made me wait for 2 hours with a lot of hassle before returning my things. “

18th August Security services of the Hamas government in Gaza summoned WAFA news agency correspondent Fathi Tbeil, after reporting on a sit-in organised in solidarity with the Palestinian refugees of Alrimal camp in Syria, which was shelled by Syrian forces, on 18 August 2011. Tbeil went on Monday 15 August 2011 to the courtyard of Aljundi Almajhoul in Gaza to cover the sit-in, when security services soon began dispersed the peaceful crowd and arresting a number of participants. Tbeil said that after covering the event a security service member approached him in a vehicle and arrested him along with a group of demonstrators, taking them to the Alabas center for investigation. Tbeil was interrogated as to his reason for covering the event and was accused of entering a prohibited area and reporting on a prohibited event. Tbeil assured investigators that his presence at the scene was purely for work purposes and that he was unaware the event was illegal. Tbeil was held in security service custody until 3 pm the following day. Tbeil added: “I was summoned for investigation at 8 am and when I went there they didn’t interrogate me about the event but instead asked me about my sources and about some of the contacts in my mobile phone.  I was released about 11.15 am”.

19th August Israeli occupation forces attacked Al-Jazeera channel crew – cameraman Nabeel Mizawi and correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh – while coving Friday prayers in Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on 19 August 2011. Abu Akleh said in a live broadcast to Al-Jazeera channel that the IOF beat her colleague Mizawi and pushed her and ordered them to stop filming. IOF personnel also broke one of the voice cables causing a sound cut, forcing the crew to stop covering and restrict their broadcast to image footage from the area.

20th August Members of Hamas government police attacked WAFA Agency correspondent Husain Alsinwar while preparing a report on the circumstances in Khanyounis following the Israeli air strikes on Saturday 20 August 2011. Alsinwar told MADA that he was preparing his report when he was approached by members of the police who tried to prevent him from covering and ordered him to stop filming, but he refused. Alsinwar added: “After that one of them beat me and tried to take my camera by force”.

20th August Preventative security services arrested Radio Al’am presenter Muntaser Nassar at his home in Hebron city, West Bank on Saturday 20 August 2011. His brother told MADA that members of preventative service came to the house and asked for Muntaser, then arrested him and took him to Almokataá prison in Hebron. Muntaser was released on 28 August where he said he was interrogated about his work and personal issues.

21st August Israeli occupation forces arrested Shihab agency correspondent Amer Abu Arafeh in Hebron on Sunday 21 August 2011. The website agency editor Ahmad Shildan told MADA that he was in contact with Abu Arafeh until 1:15 am after he covered an IOF raid in the city of Hebron. Shildan called again an hour and a half later, but was answered this time by Arafeh’s brother who informed him that their house had been raided and Amer arrested. Shildan added: "that was shocking news for us in the agency; we did not think that he would be arrested while covering events in the city." On 31 August 2011 Abu Arafeh was sentenced to administrative detention for six months.

21st August Israeli Occupation Forces arrested Al-Aqsa TV cameraman Osaid Amarneh after raiding his home in Deheisha refugee camp, Bethlehem, on Sunday 21 August 2011. Amarneh’s father Abdelmajed Amarneh said that a unit of Israeli soldiers raided their building at 3:00 am and shot his cousin Baker Badaren, 27, in the leg. Amarneh added: “after that, they searched our house and detained us in different rooms and asked about Osaid, then they arrested him”. Badaren was taken to Haddasah hospital in Jerusalem for treatment. Amayreh was released on 28 August 2011, after being interrogated by Israeli Police about his journalistic work, in particular his coverage of the funeral of two martyrs in Hebron last year and reports on Hamas activities. Amarneh told them that he is a journalist, a member of the Journalists' Syndicate and works with several media organizations. Amarneh added: "The next day I was taken to the court at Ofer where the judge gave prosecutors until Sunday 28 August 2011 to present evidence against me, but they did not so I was released”.

26th August Internal security services of the Hamas government interrogated Palestine Voice radio correspondent Tamim Muammar on Friday 26 August 2011 before allowing him to travel to Egypt for medical treatment in the Ma’had Naser Altiby facility. Mummar told MADA that he was interrogated in the Rafah border in the internal security office for 2 hours, answering questions about his political views and his communication with the radio, in addition to his location in Egypt.

27th August Israeli occupation forces detained a group of the journalists who were preparing to cover a peaceful march against the separation Wall in Alwalajeh village, west of Bethlehem city. Ma’an Agency photographer Luay Sababa said that he was standing with a group of journalists far away from the demonstrators when a group of Israeli border guards approached, requested their press and identities cards and asked for the reason for their presence at the march. The group was detained for half an hour.