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AI: 'Hamas' brutal crackdown against protesters must end'

March 19, 2019 1:23 P.M. (Updated: March 19, 2019 4:33 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Hamas security forces’ violent crackdown against peaceful Palestinian protesters, activists, human rights workers, including an Amnesty International worker, and local journalists “must be immediately halted and investigated,” said Amnesty International (AI).

Amnesty International said in a statement, “Hundreds of protesters have been subjected to beatings, arbitrary arrest and detentions, and torture and other forms of ill-treatment since March 14th, when Palestinians took to the streets across the Gaza Strip to protest against the rising cost of living and deteriorating economic conditions under the Hamas de facto administration.”

An AI Research Consultant, Hind Khoudary, has been detained and interrogated by the Hamas forces for working with Amnesty International. Her interrogation lasted for three hours during which four male interrogators subjected her to ill-treatment.

AI added that the interrogators used abusive language and warned Khoudary not to carry out human rights research and threatened to prosecute her for spying and working as a foreign agent.

Saleh Higazi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, “The crackdown on freedom of expression and the use of torture in Gaza has reached alarming new levels. Over the past few days, we have seen shocking human rights violations carried out by Hamas security forces against peaceful protesters, journalists and rights workers.”

“It is clear that Hamas security forces are trying to stop human rights defenders from carrying out the vital work of documenting and reporting on the severe violations they are perpetrating during this ongoing violent and arbitrary crackdown. We are sending a clear message to the Gaza authorities today that we are watching and we will work to ensure that all those responsible for these violations are held to account.”

The human rights violations perpetrated by Hamas security forces against peaceful protesters, journalists, and human rights defenders in Gaza are the most severe for more than a decade.

The latest round of repression by Hamas began on March 10th 2019, when 13 activists planning demonstrations to protest the high cost of living in Gaza were arrested during a private meeting at a house belonging to the activist Jihad Salem al-Arabeed in the town of Jabalya, in the northern Gaza Strip.

The arrest came after the group launched a social media campaign titled 'The revolt of the hungry’ and 'Down with price hikes,’ calling for a protest on March14th in Jabaliya, in northern Gaza.

Security forces stormed into the house without an arrest warrant. The activists were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in detention. On March 12th, they were released with a warning not to continue with their plans.

On the afternoon of March 14th 2019, Hamas security forces violently attacked hundreds of peaceful demonstrators in Jabaliya refugee camp, Deir al-Balah camp, al-Breij camp, and Rafah using sound bombs, batons, pepper-spray, and live ammunition.

On March 15th, Hamas forces raided a house in Deir al-Balah camp belonging to a local journalist, Osamah al-Kahlout. Inside the house were the Director of the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), Jamil Sarhan, and ICHR lawyer Baker Al-Turkmani. Both human rights workers, who had been monitoring the protests, were physically assaulted and their mobile phones were confiscated.

On March 16th, Hamas security forces in Gaza arrested a number of human rights defenders while they were working east of Gaza City. The four detained were identified as Samir al-Manaama, lawyer at Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Khaled Abu Isbetan, fieldworker at Al Mezan, Sabreen al-Tartour, field worker at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and Fadi Abu Ghunayma, field worker at Addameer Association for Human Rights in Gaza.

In addition, a number of journalists across Gaza were also physically assaulted, detained, and were forbidden from documenting the protests. Many journalists, lawyers, and NGO workers reportedly received summon notices for interrogation.

Higazi stressed, “The Hamas de facto administration must immediately launch an independent, thorough and transparent investigation into the unnecessary and excessive use of force, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture and other ill-treatment by security forces. Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, suspected perpetrators should be prosecuted in fair trials.”

Higazi said, “The authorities in Gaza have a duty to ensure that journalists and human rights defenders are free to carry out their work without threat, intimidation, or abuse; failure to protect such activities and deliberate interference in their work is a flagrant violation of international law.”

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