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Palestinian journalists protest outside prime minister's office in Ramallah

July 8, 2017 9:00 P.M. (Updated: July 9, 2017 2:49 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Dozens of Palestinian journalists organized a protest outside of the Palestinian prime minister’s office in Ramallah on Saturday, urging both the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied West Bank and Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip to immediately release all imprisoned journalists.

The protest came after PA forces arrested Jihad Barakat on Thursday, a journalist who works for the Beirut-based TV channel Palestine Today.

Barakat was detained in the northern occupied West Bank district of Tulkarem after he took photos and filmed Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s motorcade passing an Israeli-controlled military checkpoint. His detention has since been extended at least until Sunday.

Protesting journalists said the prime minister's office had turned down their request to hold a meeting with Hamdallah.

Director of Palestine Today Farouq Ulayyan said during the protest that Jihad Barakat “did not break the law in any way whatsoever,” and criticized the PA’s statement on the detention that said two Palestinian “youths” were arrested for “violating laws on filming,” and did not mention that one of the detainees was a well-known journalist.

The Palestinian government, Ulayyan added, is familiar with Barakat and his work and “invite him to cover governmental activities almost every day.”

Member of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate Faris Sarafandi stressed the vital role Palestinian journalists play in conveying the Palestinian narrative to the world, and sarcastically suggested that "Palestinian security services both in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip should notify journalists that working in media is forbidden if they want to bury these stories. Then all journalists can just stay at home."

“Unless we are able to allow journalists to do their job freely, we will never obtain our freedom or achieve our national goals," Sarafandi added.

”Where is Jihad (Barakat)?,” “No to (the media) blackout,” “Arresting a journalist is violation of Palestinian law and international agreements”

Following Barakat’s detention, Palestinians voicing their frustrations over social media said that it was only the latest expression of the PA’s “excessive” aggression against Palestinian journalists -- especially those who have been critical of PA officials and their ongoing security coordination with Israel.

“What is wrong with filming a video and publishing it on Facebook of the Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah being searched at an occupation checkpoint? Do you think we might realize that our authority (PA) lacks sovereignty?” on critic said on Facebook.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) documented in its annual 2016 report instances of torture committed by Palestinian parties and a continuation of Palestinian authorities “prosecuting journalists in relation to their publications on social media sites.”

The PA also decided last month to block 11 Palestinian news websites -- all allegedly affiliated with either the Hamas movement or Muhammad Dahlan, a political rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a move which has been condemned by rights groups as a "serious violation of freedom of the press and expression."

Meanwhile, a number of Palestinian journalists working for PA-run news outlets in the Gaza Strip have been detained by Hamas authorities in recent months.

Rights groups have continued to criticize the Fatah-dominated PA and Hamas, the de facto leaders in the Gaza Strip, for suppressing both freedom of press and freedom of speech. Both governments have been the focus of condemnation for targeting Palestinian journalists who openly criticize the government.
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