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Gaza journalist: Hamas threatened to kill me

March 19, 2011 3:09 P.M. (Updated: March 23, 2011 9:31 P.M.)
By: George Hale

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A Palestinian journalist in the Gaza Strip said Saturday that she received threats of violence from Hamas authorities over her participation in demonstrations.

The journalist told Ma'an that Hamas police threatened her and her son if she wrote anything on Facebook or her blog about the pro-unity protests that have been dispersed violently throughout Gaza in recent days.

She said authorities sent the head of her family a text message saying, "We will kill her the next time she blogs against us or uses Facebook to organize anything ... If you won't do it, we'll do it for you."

The journalist, who requested anonymity due to fear of reprisal, said she was detained and that while in jail, police referenced her son by name and indirectly threatened to take action against him over her work.

"I deactivated my Facebook account and can't write anything on my blog" due to the threats against him, she told Ma'an by phone from Gaza, adding that Hamas security was following her.

Other journalists told Ma'an that authorities were taking unprecedented measures against press in the wake of the demonstrations. Cameras and recording equipment have been confiscated and data erased.

"The situation for journalists is really terrible; it's unbelievable," she said. "In the past they treated people from Fatah like this but now they are targeting ordinary civilians, including journalists."

She added: "This is the first time I'm afraid to use my name."

For a week, tens of thousands of Palestinians have protested across the occupied territories to demand that Hamas and its rival Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority, end their bitter enmity.

But despite leaders of the Hamas and the West Bank-based Fatah agreeing to meet to talk, the Islamist movement which controls Gaza has since used force to disperse several follow-up demonstrations.

On Saturday, about 100 reporters held an impromptu demonstration in front of a Hamas building in Gaza City protesting their treatment hours earlier at a protest that was violently dispersed.

"They even attacked the media's demonstration," a Palestinian journalist said.

The journalists were protesting an apparent policy of intimidation against the press in Gaza.

Reporters for a Japanese TV station said plainclothes police ransacked their offices in Gaza City on Saturday. They left with footage of officers attacking demonstrators in Gaza City.

In another incident, journalist Manal Hasan was beaten by security forces in Khan Younis.

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate said Hamas authorities broke into the offices of the Mayadeen media company and attacked Khalid Al-Ashqar, a cameraman for The Associated Press.

A Reuters office was also ransacked, and reporters were told not to take footage of protests. Reuters journalists told Ma'an that police detained two photographers when they refused to hand over their cameras.

During a news conference aired on Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV, a Reuters correspondent asked why the British news agency's office came under attack. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum did not comment.

A separate news conference scheduled for 3 p.m. was subsequently called off.

The treatment of journalists in Gaza has drawn criticism from the Foreign Press Association, which accused Hamas of a "disturbing pattern of harassment and intimidation" against the media.

"Unfortunately, our past appeals for press freedom have repeatedly been ignored by Hamas," an FPA statement said Tuesday. "We again demand that Hamas allow journalists to do their work and respect the basic right of freedom of the press. Continued harassment will affect coverage of the story."

Hamas officials have declined to speak to Ma'an about the protests due to "its lies and distortions."

Ma'an staff in Gaza City contributed to this report.
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