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PA forces assault press and rights workers at anti-talks protest

Aug. 28, 2010 7:37 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 28, 2010 7:37 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Members of the PA General Intelligence Service reportedly assaulted two field workers from Palestinian rights group Al-Haq on Wednesday as they documented the quashing of a rally protesting the return to peace talks.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights issued a statement condemning the assault, which its own field workers documented in the hours following by gathering testimony and witness accounts. A second organization, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), condemned a second assault by PA forces, on a local television crew.

The incidents occurred at what police called an illegal rally. Members of leftist and independent political parties organized a conference to voice opposition to the government decision to return to peace talks with Israel, and accused police and intelligence officials of inflitrating the meeting and instigating the rally.

According to collected testimonies, Al-Haq staff members heard noise on the main street near their central Ramallah offices, and called friends who informed them that intelligence officers were attempting to stop an assembly of political and civil society organizations gathering at the Protestant Church, which was across the street.

Wissam Ahmed, 33, Program Officer at Al-Haq, reportedly took a video camera into the street. He said that as soon as he reached the church area, he was beaten by a person in civilian clothes, who later identified himself as an intelligence officer.

Ahmed told PCHR that his camera was temporarily taken from him and he was thrown to the ground. He said he asked why he was prevented from filming the event. "In response, more than 10 GIS members surrounded him and beat him on the head and the neck. They took his camera and pushed him away," PCHR testimony recorded.

A second staff member, who tried to intervene, was also reportedly assaulted. She told PCHR that an intelligence officer stomped on her feet so hard she had to be transferred to the hospital.

In its own statement on the event, Al-Haq condemned "the use of intimidation and coercion in preventing a peaceful public meeting of Palestinian political parties and civil society. We also deplore the use of violence against human rights defenders during their attempts to document the incident."

Media also assaulted

WATAN television also reported an assault on two of its cameramen, which MADA called a "flagrant violation of Freedom of expression."

The administration at the station condemned a the incident, and called on the PA to respect media freedoms.

MADA said the men were beaten and their equipment confiscated as they covered a march protesting the shutdown of "a conference against direct negotiations between Palestinian National Authority and Israeli government, which [was] organized by a group of Palestinian factions and civil society organizations."

The statement also noted that the WATAN office had been raided 8 days earlier, when the channel decided to air their coverage of a Hizb Ul-Tahrir march, which was banned by the PA security services.
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