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Hamas urged to free journalists, end media crackdown

Jan. 24, 2013 8:06 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 29, 2013 12:31 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The world's largest federation of press unions on Thursday blasted the Hamas government's week-long crackdown on the media in Gaza and called for the release of six journalists.

The International Federation of Journalists accused the security forces in Gaza of launching a major crackdown on the media and particularly members of its local affiliate, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate.

"The climate of sheer brutality and ruthless intimidation targeting media in Gaza has again shown that Hamas is no friend of press freedom," said IFJ president Jim Boumelha, in a statement.

"These journalists are being held with no charges against them while their families and colleagues live in fear of raids and arrests. They should be released immediately and their families left in peace."

The Palestinian syndicate says Hamas forces launched the crackdown Sunday, raiding the homes of journalists and detaining them over a 48-hour period. The journalists are Abdul Karim Hajji, Hussein Abdel-Gawad Karsou, Bassam Darwich, Ashraf Abu Khasewan, Mustafa Mekdad and Jumua Abu Shoumer, it said.

The syndicate added that Hamas forces first detained members of Abu Shoumer's family as a means of pressuring his surrender to the security forces.

Hamas has repeatedly targeted the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in the years since taking power in 2007, and has sought to replace its membership with Hamas-affiliated media.

In his statement Thursday, the IFJ president said he fully backed the syndicate.

"We commend our colleagues in Gaza for opposing any attempt to dice and create divisions among journalists," Boumelha said, adding that the syndicate had "our unwavering support."

The IFJ's protest followed criticism from Palestinian rights and media freedom groups.

'Those persons are not journalists'

On Wednesday, the Hamas government flatly denied arresting any journalists, a Ma'an correspondent said after a meeting with interior ministry officials in Gaza City.

Ministry spokesman Islam Shahwan said the authorities guaranteed freedom of the press, and went on to claim that recent detainees were charged with recognizable offenses.

Shahwan also insisted the detainees had admitted to the unspecified charges, the reporter said.

A statement from the interior ministry 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."

The journalists are employees of al-Katab satellite channel, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, the websites Fatah Youth and Aswar press, and al-Hurriya radio as well as other news outlets.

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