MADA says press freedom at risk

Palestinian journalists face increasing attacks

GMT 10:57 2012 Tuesday ,21 February

Arab Today, arab today Palestinian journalists face increasing attacks

Palestinian journalists are facing wave of press-freedom
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Palestinian journalists are facing wave of press-freedom Palestinian journalists are facing a recent wave of press-freedom violations at the hands of both Israeli forces and Palestinian security services, The International Press Institute (IPI) said on Monday.
Since the beginning of 2012, at least five journalists working in the Palestinian Territories faced arbitrary arrest, and a further two have seen their detention periods extended, according to media reports quoted by IPI.
IPI quoted its Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie as saying: “We are concerned that the arbitrary detention of journalists in the Palestinian Territories reflects a desire to control information and silence criticism - neither of which is acceptable in a democratic society.  The pattern of interrogating journalists for what they write and then later releasing them appears to be a method of encouraging self-censorship, something that is ultimately most harmful to the people of Palestine.”
Moreover, in a series of incidents in the West Bank, Israeli forces have allegedly targeted journalists covering protests with rubber-coated steel bullets and tear-gas canisters.
The Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), which tracks press-freedom violations in Gaza and the West Bank, said in its most recent monthly report that “the New Year did not begin well” for Palestinian journalists.  The group spoke of an “extensive campaign of violence and harassment” against journalists by Israeli forces, and assailed Palestinian authorities for failing to improve the Territories’ poor record on press freedom, the IPI reported.
The Vienna-based press institute said the most recent of the arrests occurred on February 5, when Israeli forces raided the homes of reporter Suhaib Al-Asa of Radio Bethelem 2000 and Oman Halaiqaa, a photojournalist based in Al-Khalil province, and confiscated the journalists’ mobile phones, recorders and camera memory cards, MADA said.  Both al-Asa and Halaiqaa were arrested and are currently being held without charges in the Etzion and Ashkelon detention centres, respectively.  MADA told IPI it was unaware of specific writings that could have prompted the arrests.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reported on February 14 that Israeli authorities two day earlier had extended Al-Asa’s detention period for 11 days.   The group added that Al-Asa had been previously detained by authorities at least twice.   
The arrests of Al-Asa and Halaiqaa came just days after another pair of journalists was reportedly detained and interrogated by Palestinian security services.  Rami Samara, an editor at the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, told MADA he was taken to Palestinian intelligence headquarters on 1 February and questioned for three hours about criticisms of the PLO leadership he had posted on his Facebook page.
Samara said he was released only after colleagues organised a sit-in protest in Ramallah.  AP quoted him as saying afterward, “Before this detention, I thought that we, the Palestinian people, enjoy wide freedom, but after what I saw, I think I'm being followed by the intelligence in every step of my life," he said.
Yousef Shayeb, a correspondent for the Jordan-based al-Ghad newspaper, told the Associated Press (AP) he had been held for eight hours on 31 January and questioned about stories in which he alleged corruption at a Palestinian diplomatic mission abroad.   A Palestinian government spokesman said Shayeb was under investigation for libel, AP further reported.
MADA and other groups have also expressed concern over what they view as targeted attacks by Israeli forces on Palestinian journalists covering protests in the West Bank.  On January 27, Israeli forces reportedly fired two rubber-coated steel bullets at photographer Muheeb Al-Barghouthi, of the newspaper Alhayat Aljadedah, who was covering a demonstration in the town of Bil’in.  Al-Barghouti told MADA he required immediate transfer to a hospital after one of the bullets struck near a bone in his left leg.
In a separate incident on the same day, Israeli soldiers allegedly targeted a group of journalists covering a weekly protest in Kafr Kaddom with tear-gas canisters.  Haroon Amayreh told MADA one of the canisters hit him in the leg and that he and other journalists experienced breathing difficulties, the IPI also reported.
Reporters without Borders last week cited a third incident, in which two Palestinian journalists were reportedly injured by rubber bullets and tear-gas grenades in the town of Nabi Saleh.
The Israeli military has responded fiercely to claims that it directly targets journalists.  "There is no such policy and I would even say it's ridiculous to make such a claim," military spokesman Arye Shalicar told AFP.   Shalicar added that the demonstrations are by nature violent and that journalists, "by the fact of being there … are placing themselves in danger and they need to be aware of that.”

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