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“MADA”: 8 Violations against Media Freedoms in Palestine during April

Ramallah (07/05/2020) - In an exceptional and unprecedented situation, April 2020 has witnessed a very limited and very low number of violations against media freedoms in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The violations against media freedoms were limited to only 8 violations during April 2020; 7 of which were committed by different Palestinian authorities, while the Israeli occupation committed a single violation.

The reason behind this significant and unprecedented decline in the number of violations, especially Israeli violations against media freedoms in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is due to the imposition of a state of emergency, which led to the Palestinians staying in their homes, as well as the Israelis due to the spread of the Corona pandemic. Also, all the field activities and clashes disappeared, which the Israeli occupation forces used to suppress it, and prevent the journalists and media outlets from covering it.

During April, a single Israeli violation was documented which included the summoning of the Palestinian journalist Christine Rinawi, Palestine TV correspondent in the occupied Jerusalem City, and investigating her, on the pretext of continuing her work with Palestine TV. It is worth mentioning that the Israeli occupation authorities had closed Palestine TV office in Jerusalem and prevented the journalists from working inside the city through a decision issued by the Israeli Minister of the Interior.

The number of Palestinian violations that were monitored and documented during April reached 7 violations; two of which occurred in the Gaza Strip, which included preventing Palestine TV staff: Mohammad Salim Abu Hatab and Mohammad Ziyad Nassar from interviewing citizens about the atmosphere of Ramadan in light of the Corona epidemic, taking them to the General Investigation headquarters, detaining them and forcing them to sign a pledge not to work without prior permission. In the West Bank, five violations were documented: detaining two journalists of Jana Media Production Company; Youssef Hassasna and Haitham Warasna after searching their vehicle by the Preventive Security Service and seizing their photography equipment. Also, The Palestinian News Agency “WAFA” issued a decision referring the journalists, Jaafar Sadaqa and Rami Samara, to an investigation committee on the pretext of "violating the state of emergency" without clarifying this. It is believed that the reason for this procedure is related to their Facebook writings.

Details of violations:

 (11-04) The administration of the Palestinian News and Information Agency "WAFA" issued a decision referring two of its journalists, Jaafar Sadaqa, and Rami Samara to an investigation committee, after the end of the emergency period, and freezing their salaries on the pretext of violating the state of emergency, according to the official letter that Sadaqa and Samara received. However, the two journalists believed that it is related to their Facebook writings.

According to MADA’s researcher, the economist journalist Jaafar Sadaqa received on April 9 a copy of the investigation committee’s official letter through a message via the “WhatsApp” application, as he is now in Jenin, sent by the agency’s administration. The letter which is signed by the agency’s director general for financial and administrative affairs, Ayman al-Zahir includes a notice to Sadaqa of the formation of an investigation committee “because his lack of commitment to the emergency instructions”. Also, the letter provided that the committee begins its work after the state of emergency ends, and the necessity to adhere to the state of emergency. It appears that the intended breach of the state of emergency is related to what Sadaqa writes on his Facebook page, as Ahmed Assaf, PBC Chief, told some of the parties close to Sadaqa.

Two days later (April 11), journalist Sadaqah sent a message to Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh through government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem to tell him about the decision he was informed of. The government spokesman contacted Sadaqa, and assured him that this matter is not acceptable to Prime Minister Shtayyah, and that it will be dealt with. On April 14, Sadaqa learned from one of his friends that his salary might have been frozen. Sadaqa contacted the director of financial and administrative affairs in the agency Al-Thahir, who refused to give him any details about what the breach of emergency instructions was, and after his insistence, Al-Thahir told him that he did not know the details, which only Ahmed Assaf, PBC Chief, knew about.

As for the salary, Al-Thahir was surprised that Sadaqah knew about the decision because he had not been notified about it yet, and he told him that an official letter issued on April 9 to the Ministry of Finance which asked to reserve Sadaqa’s salary. Sadaqa asked Al-Thahir about the legality of that procedure, despite the lack of the results of the investigation committee, Al-Thahir told Sadaqa “there are no laws, we are in an emergency”. This incident made Sadaqah to contact the Ministry of Finance, which confirmed to him that the letter had arrived, and it was issued by Ahmad Assaf and not from the Personnel Affairs Bureau. Sadaqa, who works from home, received assurances from government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem that the issue was being dealt with by Dr. Shtayyeh, which he considers to be unacceptable. Also, Melhem asked the Minister of Finance Shukri Bishara not to implement the letter related to the salary freeze, this happened during a press briefing on April 15.

As for the journalist Rami Samara, on April 13, he received a phone call from his direct manager in the department, Khaled Al-Khalidi, informing him of the need to come to the agency to receive an official letter about the formation of an investigation committee for him. Samara went to the agency’s headquarters specifically to the office of the Director General of Administrative and Financial Affairs Ayman Al-Thahir to receive the letter, and in the office there were two people in addition to Al-Thahir, the direct manager of Samara Khaled Al-Khalidi, and a security man named Fadi Al-Nassan, who is affiliated with the presidential guard. Before Samara received the book, Al-Nassan (security man) addressed several questions to Samara about his Facebook posts. The questions were more like an investigation, and focused on his posts about Palestine TV; even though Samara did not publish anything about television (whether it was critical or offensive). The discussion developed between them and intensified, until Samara received the official letter and left the agency headquarters.

After his departure, Samara contacted one of the people working in the President’s Office to inquire about Fadi Al-Nassan’s mission and any attribution that allows him to come to the agency and talk to him (noting that it was the second time he speaks to him). Al-Nassan returned shortly thereafter, phoned Samara and informed him that his problem with WAFA agency was administrative, not security, which indicates that what Al-Nassan did was individual and not ordered by his institution. Minutes later, Samara received a call from the official in charge of Fadi al-Nassan, who apologized to Samara, and told him that al-Nassan was there personally and not officially, , and informed him that his problem with WAFA was administrative and not security.

On the day after receiving the book (on April 13), Samara asked his colleague at the agency Jaafar Sadaqah, who had received a similar letter earlier, to contact the Ministry of Finance to check whether they had received an official letter to freeze their salaries. Sadaqa made the call and learned that the letter was received to freeze Sadaqa’s salary, while the Ministry has not received a letter about Samara. In order to make sure, Samara then contacted Ayman Al-Thahir to inquire about his salary and whether there was a decision to freeze it. Al-Thahir told Samara that a decision was issued to freeze his salary and he will be directed to the finance. After that, Samara went to some friends and acquaintances, including government spokesman, Ibrahim Melhem, who gave him oral assurances that the salary will not stop, and that the investigation committee is an administrative procedure that the employee must be subjected to, but without any penalty before the committee's results are issued.

(25-04) Security forces in Gaza prevented the Palestine TV crew from preparing interviews with citizens for a TV report on the atmosphere of the month of Ramadan in the Strip in light of the spread of the Corona pandemic. They also took the crew to the Investigation headquarters and detained them for several hours, where they were forced to sign a pledge not to work in the field without prior permission, before they were released.

According to MADA’s researcher, Palestine TV correspondent in the Gaza Strip, Mhhammad Salim Salama Abu Hatab, 48 years old, and his colleague, TV cameraman Mohammad Ziyad Issa Nassar, 42 years old, were at about 12:00 PM (04/20/2020) interviewing some citizens in the Teras region, in the northern Gaza Strip, as part of a news report about the atmosphere of the month of Ramadan in light of the Corona pandemic. In the meantime, they were arrested by three members of Hamas security, after a verbal argument between the crew and security personnel about the nature of their work and the reason for their presence in the area, and they were prevented from completing their work on the pretext of not having prior permission to do so. The security officers asked them to go to the Investigation headquarters at Jabalia Camp Police Station in the TV car accompanied by a member of the security force, and they responded. Upon their arrival at the center, the television crew made contact with the management of the channel, which in turn contacted the Journalists Syndicate, while the detectives contacted one of their officials who asked Abu Hatab and Nassar to sign on a pledge not to work unless they obtained a prior permission, and after they signed the pledge was released after about two and a half hours at the police headquarters.

(16-04) The Israeli occupation intelligence summoned and interviewed Palestine TV reporter in occupied Jerusalem, Christine Rinawi, about her continued work with Palestine TV, which office was closed and prevented by the Israeli occupation from working in Jerusalem.

According to MADA’s researcher, the Palestine TV correspondent, journalist Christine Khaled Walid Rinawi, 31 years old, who is a resident of Beit Hanina in Jerusalem, received, at 10 am on Thursday 16/4/2020, a call from an Israeli intelligence officer. He started asking her about her location, she told him that she is in her house, and the officer told her that he is in front of her house and that he came to arrest her because she is "wanted". Rinawi asked him to tell her what he wanted over the phone, as she was with her sick mother in her family's home in Ramallah since the beginning of quarantine, due the spread of the Corona virus, but the officer refused.

At eleven o’clock, Christine went to the investigation center in “Al-Maskoubiyya” in Jerusalem, and she remained there waiting until about half past two, when the investigation began with her under the pretext of “violating Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and violating the decision of the Minister of Internal Security.” It is worth mentioning that it was the fourth time Rinawi was summoned with the same accusation. She said to the officer: “You summon me for the same accusation that you can direct to the governor of Jerusalem or to the minister of Jerusalem, because they are practicing political activity, but I am a journalist and I do media activity, and therefore you cannot accuse me of that just because I worked on Palestine TV as it is like any institution affiliated with the Palestinian Authority.” They also interrogated Rinawi regarding the breach of the decision to prevent Palestine TV from operating in Jerusalem, and she informed them that the last services she provided to Palestine TV in Jerusalem were on 5/12/2019. Noting that the decision issued by the Israeli Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan, according to which the Palestine TV office was closed and banned its activities in the city of Jerusalem for a period of six months, was signed on October 13, 2019, which means that the decision to close ended on April 13.

During her interrogation, the Israeli investigator showed Rinawi a video with a live broadcast of her, in which she was presenting news about the city of Jerusalem in the light of the Corona pandemic, and informed him that it was taken from her family's home in the city of Ramallah, and even if it was from inside Jerusalem, no one can hold her accountable. The investigator replied: "Yes, I can hold you accountable. It is forbidden to work for Palestine TV within the borders of the city of Jerusalem, even if it is from inside the house." Since Rinawi proved her presence in Ramallah and not in Jerusalem, she was able to drop the charges against her, after she remained detained there until five o'clock in the evening of the same day.

It is noteworthy that this is the fourth time journalist Christine Renawi has been investigated since the issuance of the decision to prevent Palestine TV from working in Jerusalem and closing its office for the first time on November 20, 2019 when Palestine TV headquarters in the Al-Suwana area in the city of occupied Jerusalem were stormed and closed.

(26-04) Members of the Preventive Security Service detained the staff of the Jana Media Production Company, the two journalists: Youssef Hassasna (42 years old); Haitham Warasna (29 years old), after searching their vehicle, and they were transferred to the agency’s headquarters in Yatta city, south of Hebron Governorate.

According to MADA researcher’s follow-up, a person affiliated with the Fatah movement stopped a vehicle belonging to the Islamic Society for Orphans Care, downtown Yatta, south of Hebron Governorate at approximately 1:00 pm on Saturday, 26 April 2020. It should be mentioned that the vehicle was distributing baskets of food for orphan families in the city. The two journalists: Youssef Ibrahim Shehda Hassasna (42 years old); director of the Jana Media Production Company; and company’s photographer, Haitham Youssef Warasna (29 years old) were in the same vehicle to cover the distribution of food baskets. In the meantime, there was a discussion between the member of the movement and the charity's staff on the mechanism of distributing food baskets.

Meanwhile, a number of other persons affiliated with the Fatah organization came and asked the charity's employees to accompany them to the headquarters of the Fatah region in the city. The two journalists accompanied the charity's staff to the region's headquarters. There, members of the Fatah organization asked them to leave the place, so the two journalists headed to their vehicle, but before they moved from the site, a vehicle of the Preventive Security Service arrived at the place, and a number of members got out of it and approached the journalists ’vehicle and asked them for their two ID cards. The two journalists tried to explain what happened to the Preventive Security personnel who searched the journalists ’vehicle in the meantime and confiscated a laptop computer and a paper bag for their work, as well as their mobile phones and their press cards, and asked them to accompany them to the agency’s headquarters in Yatta.

Upon arriving at the preventive headquarters, the agents confiscated the cameras and their equipment, their vehicle key and asked them to sit inside the vehicle. At approximately 6:30 p.m., and after about 4 hours in detention, the officers returned the personal phones and cameras of the Hassasna and Warasna, and asked them to leave. The journalist Hassasna asked them about the rest of the detained items. One of them told him to review the security of the device at the Preventive headquarters in the Hebron governorate. When the journalist asked about their personal IDs, and that there are Israeli checkpoints on the roads, the agency member answered him by saying: “it is your problem”. So, the two journalists left the Preventive headquarters in Yatta.

On the following day (Sunday, 4 April 2020), journalist Hassasna went to the headquarters of the Preventive Security Service in Hebron to receive their detained items. He arrived at the headquarters at about 10:00 am, and there he was asked to wait outside, after about 4 hours from waiting outside the headquarters, the guard asked him to leave and return the next day to receive the detained items and attend an interview with the security of the institutions. He also told him to bring with him the laptop charger. Journalist Hassasna left the s headquarters in the city of Hebron, and he was contacted by the Journalists Syndicate to follow up on what was going on, and was informed that the Syndicate representative in Hebron would attend the interview with him.

At approximately 10:00 am on Monday (04/28/2020), the journalist Hassasna went to the Preventive Security headquarters in the city of Hebron alone, after the representative apologized for not attending. The journalist, Hassasna, entered a room with two investigators, one of the investigators started with personal questions, and then moved to question about the nature of Hassasna’s work, Jana Media Company, its staff, the entities he works with and the channels he deals with. The journalist refused to deal with the investigator on these questions, and asked him to explain the reason for his attendance at the interview.

In the meantime, the other investigator was coming out of the room a little and returning to ask about some of the files on the laptop sources. Hassasna knew that the members of the Preventive Security Service opened his personal device and read the emails of his work and his account on Facebook. The interview lasted about an hour and a half, in which the investigator was asking about people he deals with by browsing the agenda book of his journalistic work that was confiscated from the vehicle. At approximately 12:00 midday, the investigator handed over the items that had been seized and asked Hassasna to leave.