RAMALLAH (Ma’an) – Palestinian journalists joined a sit-in strike near Ramallah on Thursday protesting a decision by the Hamas-run government in Gaza to close media offices of Ma’an Network, Al Arabiya and others.
The protesters, among them Palestinian politicians and dignitaries, urged the Hamas government to reopen all the media offices it closed, and to end a ban on the entry of three major Palestinian newspapers.
The protest was organized and called by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, the main press union in Palestine.
Protesters raised posters expressing rejection of the restrictions on freedom of expression imposed by the Hamas-run government and its security services in the coastal enclave. Part of these restrictions is a policy of closing offices of media organizations, and detention of journalists, according to the posters the protesters waved.
Head of the journalists syndicate Abdul-Nasser Najjar addressed the protesters and expressed astonishment over the ongoing assaults against journalists in Gaza.
“We were surprised as Hamas continued with assaults against Palestinian media organizations, shutting down offices of Ma’an News Network and some other media offices. This is part of an ongoing practice,” Najjar said. He highlighted that “since Hamas staged its coup in Gaza, the main three Palestinian daily newspapers were banned in the Gaza Strip.”
He added that the Hamas-run government had closed several radio and TV stations and confiscated their equipment “suffocating freedom of expression and fighting Palestinian media outlets.”
Journalists have always appealed to Palestinian officials urging them to keep media outlets away from all political disagreements “because media outlets are the conscience of this people and because Palestinian journalists play a major part in resistance against Israeli occupation,” Najjar continued.
Thus, he added, we can never agree that an internal front fight against Palestinian media “when some people claim they were wronged by untrue information.”
“If any media outlet publishes false news, there is the judiciary and the union’s committee of ethics to question that outlet and hold it accountable. However, if media outlets are closed because their editorial policy conflicts with political parties, that is very dangerous. So far, all Hamas’ claims are unacceptable as all they claim is false news.”
Commenting on Hamas' decision to shut down Ma'an's office a week earlier, apparently out of anger that it quoted an Israeli news report about critical of the government in Gaza, Najjar said, “What crime did Ma’an commit translating a quote from another media outlet ... Is translation forbidden according to the Hamas authorities’ policies? This is very dangerous and can never be accepted.”
Najjar highlighted that his union lodged a complaint to the Palestinian attorney general against Hamas officials including the chair of the government’s media office in Gaza “and the one who claims to be attorney general.”
He insisted there is only one attorney general in the Palestinian Authority.
“We will lodge complaints against any Palestinian official regardless of their position,” he said, “if they close any media outlet or prevent any journalist from doing their duties.”
He added that all officials who oppress media outlets will be “blacklisted.”
Najjar also wondered why the Hamas government insisted on confiscating the keys of Ma’an’s office even though the offices were sealed, and why its journalists were not allowed to access them.
“For what purpose did they take the keys? Do they want to mess with the equipment or confiscate it? Dangerous things have been taking place in Gaza after the coup, and media organizations and journalists are paying the price.”
For her part, Ma’an Network chairwoman Nibal Thawabta addressed the protesters to remind them that violations against Palestinian media were ongoing. International watchdog reports, she added, prove that freedom of the press and public freedom in Palestine is on the decline.
She said that Palestinian journalists, press organizations, unions, and academic institutions in Palestine were united against restrictions on freedom of expression and the policy of “muzzling.”
“As journalists, we seek to exert every possible effort to enhance freedoms through sit-ins and other activities. We call upon all political parties to leave Palestinian media alone so they can practice their duties as the fourth branch (of government).”