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Palestinians demand PA release jailed journalists during protest in Gaza

Aug. 11, 2017 5:53 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 12, 2017 4:02 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- The Forum of Palestinian journalists organized a sit-in on Thursday in the besieged Gaza Strip to demand that the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) release five jailed Palestinian journalists in the occupied West Bank, as both the PA and Hamas have faced condemnation in recent months for their continued violations of press freedoms.

The sit-in came just a day after the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS) and the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) both condemned the PA’s arrest of five Palestinian journalists -- identified as Mamduh Hamamra, Tariq Abu Zeid, Amer Abu Arafeh, Ahmad Halaiqa, and Qutaybeh Salem.

The PA has claimed that the journalists were detained by Palestinian security forces for leaking “sensitive information to hostile parties.” However, protests and statements have emerged since their arrests accusing the PA of using allegations of “collaboration” as excuses to lock up journalists working for Hamas-affiliated news outlets.

Prisoners' rights group Addameer reported on Wednesday that a group of journalists had contacted the PA about the journalists' arrests. The PA reportedly told them that the five were arrested in order to pressure Hamas into releasing a PA-affiliated journalist being jailed by Hamas in Gaza, likely referring to Palestine TV correspondent Fouad Jaradeh

Imad al-Ifrinji, head of the forum in Gaza, expressed his rejection to the treatment of the journalists during the sit-in. “The journalists who were heroes a few days ago after defending the Jerusalemites and Al-Aqsa Mosque, have been accused of collaborating with the enemy in a matter of seconds,” he said, referencing the two-week long mass civil disobedience campaign in occupied East Jerusalem last month against Israeli policies at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Al-Ifrinji stressed the necessity of respecting the work of journalists, adding that the PA should be assisting Palestinian journalists working in the West Bank and Gaza in the same way the PA assists Israeli journalists.

He added in a statement to Ma’an during the sit-in that the PA needed to “respect the law.”

“If a journalist was truly a collaborator with an Israeli enemy then a trial should be held to punish the journalist for the crimes,” Ifrinji said.

It is common for Palestinian and Israeli journalists and human rights workers to share information, as both tend to work on similar issues and have different levels of information access.

Meanwhile, Saleh al-Masri, head of the Islamic Radios and Television Union, demanded that all Palestinian journalists unite in order to challenge Palestinian national conflicts.

“The PA’s detention of Palestinian journalists is political,” al-Masri said, adding that the detentions were part of the more than a decade-long rivalry between Hamas, the de facto leading party in Gaza, and the Ramallah-based PA.

On Wednesday, PJS called the arrests a “dangerous assault against freedom of expression,” while MADA called on Palestinian authorities to release all jailed Palestinian journalists and to “stop the policy of arresting journalists, and keep these journalists far from the internal political division and their internal frictions.”

According to Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network Samidoun, Hamamra and Halaiqa both work for Al-Quds TV; Abu Arafeh is a correspondent for Shehab News Agency; Abu Zeid is a correspondent for Al-Aqsa TV; and Salem is a freelance journalist working with several outlets, according to Addameer. 

All of these media outlets are affiliated with the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip.

In June, the PA faced fierce criticism for blocking 11 news sites allegedly affiliated with Hamas, including Shehab News Agency, or President Mahmoud Abbas' longtime rival Muhammad Dahlan, in what critics have said was Abbas’ latest effort to stifle Hamas and Dahlan’s influence in the occupied West Bank and to further consolidate his political control amid mounting criticisms against the PA and its president.

MADA estimated that, as of July, the PA had blocked 30 websites.

Last month, Abbas issued the so-called Cyber Crime Law (CCL), which allows his government to jail anyone on charges of harming “national unity” or the “social fabric” through posts on the internet and social media.

The vague, wide-reaching law alarmed critics, as it was passed without public debate or opinion and is Abbas’ most significant step yet to restrict freedom of expression in the West Bank, where social media and news websites are some of the main outlets for debate and dissent.

The new law stipulates prison terms ranging from one year to life for those who use digital outlets for a range of all-encompassing offenses. The list includes “endangering the safety of the state or the public order” as well as “harming national unity or social peace.”
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