BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian human rights groups say internal security services in the Gaza Strip have stepped up harassment of journalists in the Gaza Strip over the past 48 hours.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights distributed a list of media workers it said had been arrested since Monday and condemned the seemingly coordinated campaign, which Hamas officials quickly challenged.
According to the PCHR, internal security officers arrested al-Katab satellite channel employee Ashraf Jamal Abu Khseiwan and journalist union official Monir Joma al-Monirawi on Monday in Deir al-Balah.
The same day, forces arrested Fatah Youth website employee Mostafa Mohammed Meqdad and Joma Adnan Shawamra, a journalist who works for al-Hurriya radio, in the Gaza City area, the group said.
On Tuesday internal security officers arrested Omar Mohammed al-Dahoudi outside his office in Tal al-Hawa, the PCHR said.
On Wednesday, the group said, security forces detained Hussein Abdul Jawwad Karsou of the Aswar press website and Abdul Karim Fathi Hejji, after summoning them to the Ansar military compound west of Gaza City where they were questioned about their political affiliations. They were released but given another summons.
Meanwhile internal security officers detained Majdi Abdul Aziz Isleem in Gaza City.
The Palestinian media freedoms watchdog Mada issued a statement Tuesday highlighting the same cases and confirming details of the abuse, which it said included confiscation of property and searches.
The statement added that photographer Ashraf Abu Amra was assaulted while covering a solidarity sit-in on Sunday, and quoted him as saying: "I received an invitation from the Popular Front political party to cover the solidarity sit-in with one prisoner of the Popular Front in French prisons in front of the French Consulate in Gaza City.
"During the sit-in, one of the participants came and began to laugh in front of reporters, we told him to show respect or to stay away from journalists, but he began spitting and insulting us. Then, other participants interfered and dragged him away of us. After the sit-in, he approached me and he beat me and insulting me in front of everyone".
The Mada statement demanded that the internal security release the detained journalists and stressed the need to respect freedom of opinion and expression in the Gaza Strip and refrain from prosecuting journalists. Hamas denies
At a meeting with human rights groups Wednesday in Gaza City, a spokesman of the interior ministry, Islam Shahwan, said no journalists had been detained in Gaza recently, a Ma'an correspondent reported.
Shahwan said that his ministry guaranteed freedom of the press, and went on to claim that recent detainees were charged with recognizable offenses. He also said they admitted to the charges, the reporter said.
Later, a statement from the interior ministry challenged the rights groups' accounts. A copy distributed by the PCHR said that "The summons of a number of persons with different jobs was to question them on certain issues that threaten the security of the community."
It added: "Those persons are not journalists at all. Even those who work as journalists use this field as a cover to carry out suspicious acts."
According to the PCHR, interior ministry officials say they will release the detainees by nightfall.
The group called on the government to respect freedom of expression and follow correct procedures related to arrests and searches. It also reminded the government of freedoms guaranteed in the Palestinian basic law.