Media freedom violations in oPt during December 2011

Press 1

MADA

Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) escalated violations against journalists in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) last month, frequently targeting them with tear gas grenades. December saw a number of violations; with six journalists injured by gas projectiles while covering various events across the West Bank, the violations included also trial, beatings and arrests.

In regards to Palestinian violations, media freedoms continue to decline in the Gaza Strip, where internal security forces committed a number of violations against journalists. In the West Bank, only one violation was committed in December, the second consecutive month where only one violation was seen.

Occupation forces target the journalists with tear gas projectiles

IOF personnel deliberately targeted journalists with gas projectiles while covering the various peaceful weekly marches across the West Bank, including Modern Media Company photographer, Walid Ma'moun, who was attacked while covering the march in the village of Bil'in, near Ramallah, on Friday 2 December 2011; and Popular Resistance Committee Coordinator and photographer Ali Abu Rahma, also in Bil'in, on Friday, 9 December 2011, causing severe breathing difficulties leading to loss of consciousness. Also on 9 December, Palestine TV cameraman Najib Froana was struck on the leg by a tear gas canister while covering the weekly march in the village of Nabi Saleh, injuring his left knee.

Quds TV correspondent Linda Shalash was injured by a gas grenade when clashes broke out between Israeli Occupation Forces and the families of Palestinian detainees while she was covering the events of the prisoner swap outside of Ofer prison, near Ramallah, following the release of Gilad Shalit. Al-Hayat Al-Jadedah newspaper photographer Essam Rimawi was injured by gas grenades on his left leg while covering the weekly march in the village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, on Friday 30 December. Pal Media Agency photographer, Ashraf Abu Shawish, was also targeted with a projectile on 31 December 2011, while covering the weekly march of A'sira village, near Nablus.

Other IOF violations:

In addition to the increased attacks against journalists using tear gas projectiles, IOF also committed a number of other violations against journalists in the oPt with the arrests of Palestine Public TV cameraman Muhamad Radi and Associated Press photographer Magdi Shtayeh – who was also beaten – by Israeli forces while they were covering the Bil'in weekly march, near Ramallah, on 2 December 2011.

A group of journalists covering the peaceful weekly march in Beit Omar Hebron, on 10 December 2011 were detained by IOF following the event. The group included: Palestinian News Agency (WAFA) photographer Hussam Abu Alan, the Palestine Today TV crew - correspondent Fida Nasser and cameraman Mahmoud Khalaf - and Palestine TV cameramen Fadi and Diaa' Oweiwi.

The Israeli military occupation court of Ofer prison fined Marah Radio presenter, Raed Al-Sharif, six thousand shekels on charges that the content of his radio programme constituted incitement against occupation authorities. The Israeli military prosecutor has appealed the courts decision, petitioning for the imprisonment of Al-Sharif in addition to the fine. Al-Sharif remains in custody.

Palestine News Agency (PNN) and Al-Khaleej Emirates newspaper reporter, Amin Abu Wardeh, was arrested by Israeli forces from his home in Nablus city, West Bank. Abu Wardeh was arrested without charge on 28 December and the court has issued the decision to extend his arrest until 15 January 2012

Palestinian violations:

Palestinian perpetrated violations were concentrated in the Gaza Strip in December, which is witnessing a severe deterioration in media freedoms.

The Internal Security Service of the Hamas government in Gaza summoned the general supervisor of Aswar Press agency and Al-Quds Lebanese newspaper correspondent, Manal Khamis for investigation on Thursday 1 December. Security services of the Hamas government in Gaza also raided and halted the conference 'The First Palestinian Conference on Social Media' held in the "Lighthouse" venue in Gaza City on Sunday 4 December 2011. The conference was being held in conjunction with a Ramallah event, coordinated via video conferencing. Internal security services additionally banned Palestinian News Agency (WAFA) correspondent and Palestinian Journalists Syndicate Secretariat member, Sami Ajrami, from crossing the Rafah border into Egypt on 28 December.

In the West Bank, the Qalqilya Magistrate's Court prosecutors appealed the court's decision to acquit columnist Isam Shawar on charges of "undermining national unity and disturbing the serenity of the nation" on 4 December 2011. The charges came as the result of a number of articles Shawar had published through Ma'an News Agency, Dunia Alwatan, Falastene Alan, and the Egyptian Al-Ahram newspaper.

Conclusion and recommendations:

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) condemns all violations against Palestinian journalists, particularly Israeli occupation forces violations which have escalated significantly in the past month. MADA calls upon the international community to intervene immediately to halt these violent attacks against journalists in territories, and ensure that the New Year brings with it safety for all journalists

MADA additionally calls upon the government in Gaza Strip to end its security services' campaigns of harassment and restriction against journalists and freedom of expression in the Strip. MADA demands that the government take serious steps to ensure that all guilty parties are held accountable.

MADA wishes a good year for all journalists in Palestine and across the world, and hopes that the New Year will see a marked improvement in media freedoms in Palestine and the increased accountability of perpetrators.

Details of violations:

1 Dec - Internal Security Services of the Hamas government in Gaza summoned Aswar Press agency supervisor and Alquds Lebanese newspaper correspondent, Manal Khamis, for investigation. Khamis told MADA that she had received a call from internal security personnel and ordered to appear before their headquarters in Ansar at 9am Thursday morning. Khamis arrived with her husband at the headquarters as directed where she was told to wait, when her husband was sequestered to a different room and questioned by investigator.

The investigator asked Mr Khamis if he would persuade his wife to answer their questions, to which he replied that she had already, on a previous occasion answered all of their questions about her employers and work. The investigator then threatened that if Mr Khamis would not persuade her to respond to their investigation she would be held in custody for two days. The investigators then released them both, but ordered them to return again to the headquarters in one hour.

Manal Khamis added: "We returned after one hour and they started to interrogate me in the presence of my husband about the agency and its funding sources, then they threatened that if I continued to publish news about the government, I would be punished, then I was released".

2 Dec - Israeli occupation forces arrested and beat Associated Press photographer Magdi Shtayeh while covering the weekly march in Bil'in, near Ramallah. Shtayeh told MADA that he went to the village of Bil'in to cover the events of the peaceful weekly march, when, at the start of the march, soldiers began hurling a large number of tear gas projectiles at protesters. Shtayeh was covering events near the soldiers when one approached, telling him that the area was a closed military zone and photographer was therefor prohibited. Shtayeh stopped filming at the soldiers request but could not leave the area safely while the soldiers continued to barrage demonstrators with gas, he added: "After that I was approached by another soldier who took me to one of their military jeeps. There the soldiers brutally beat me before detaining me in the jeep for about one hour. They fired gas grenades from the jeep and I felt suffocated with the launch of each gas bomb. They released me and then arrested Palestine TV cameraman Mohamed Radi who they held for a while before releasing."

2 Dec - Israeli occupation forces attacked Modern Media Company photographer Walid Ma'moun while covering the weekly march in the village of Bil'in, near Ramallah, on Friday 2 December 2011. Ma'moun said that he had gone to the village of Bil'in to cover the weekly march when he was struck on the shoulder by a tear gas canister. He added: "It was a severe injury and I had to remain under local anaesthetic for two days because of the pain. I was left with severe contusions and bruising on my shoulder. "

4 Dec - Security services of the Hamas government in Gaza raided and halted the conference 'The First Palestinian Conference on Social Media' being held in the "Lighthouse" venue in Gaza City and coordinated with a Ramallah event via video conferencing. Security services stated that the prohibition was the result of event organizers failing to obtain the necessary permits. The Amin Network Office Director in Gaza Strip, Mohammed Abu Sharkh, stated that members of the investigative security services came to the venue and ordered an immediate end to the conference under the pretence that they did not hold a license from the Ministry of the Interior and declared the event illegal. Event organizers countered that they had received permission from the Ministry of Information in Gaza Strip, however security members said this was not sufficient and shut down the event. Abu Sharkh added: "After the intervention of government parties and non-governmental organizations, they have agreed for us to resume the conference after obtaining written approval from the Ministry of Interior, which we received on the next day, so we completed the conference.

(9 Dec) Israeli occupation forces attacked Popular Resistance Committee Coordinator and photographer, Ali Abu Rahma, while covering the peaceful weekly march in the village of Bil'in, near Ramallah, on Friday 9 December 2011. Abu Rahma stated that he went to cover the activities of the weekly march in Bil'in when occupation forces began targeting journalists with gas projectiles. Abu Rahma said that as a result, he suffered severe breathing difficulties eventually leading to him losing consciousness, and necessitating triage treatment by ambulances stationed in the area.

9 Dec - Israeli occupation forces attacked Palestine TV cameraman Najib Fraona during his coverage of the events of the weekly march in the village of Nabi Saleh, on Friday, 9 December 2011. Fraona reported that he went to cover the weekly march when soldiers fired a tear gas canister at him, hitting his left knee. Fraona added: "It caused bruising on my leg, and they took me to Ramallah Hospital where I received the necessary treatment, the doctor has asked me not to engage in work for at least one week."

10 Dec - Israeli occupation forces detained a group of journalists after their coverage of the peaceful weekly march in the village of Beit Omar in Hebron, on Saturday 10 December 2011. Palestinian News Agency (WAFA) photographer Hussam Abu Alan told MADA that three Israeli soldiers detained him and four of his colleagues, including: a Palestine Today TV crew - correspondent Fida Nasser and cameraman Mahmoud Khalaf, and Palestine TV cameramen Fadi and Diaa' Oweiwi. Nasser reported: "They detained us for about an hour and took our identity cards. They also verbally abused us and accused us of biased reporting against the Israeli occupation soldiers, saying that we only showed the bad side of the army."

12 Dec – In the West Bank, Qalqilya Magistrate's Court prosecutors appealed the court's decision to acquit columnist Isam Shawar of charges of "undermining national unity and disturbing the serenity of the nation" based upon articles he wrote and published through Ma'an News Agency, Dunia Alwatan, Falastene Alan, and the Egyptian Al-Ahram newspaper. Shawar told MADA that his acquittal was issued by the judge on Sunday, 4/12/2011, and he was surprised to learn that the prosecution appealed the decision under the pretext that he had pleaded guilty. Shawar added: "If I pleaded guilty then the judge cannot find me innocent. Now the trial for the appeal will be on 17 January 2012."

15 Dec - The Israeli military occupation court of Ofer prison fined Marah Radio presenter, Raed Al-Sharif, six thousand shekels on charges that the content of his radio programme constituted incitement against occupation authorities. Sherif's father informed MADA that the Israeli military prosecutor has appealed the courts decision, petitioning for the imprisonment of Al-Sharif in addition to the fine. He added: "Based on the resumption of the prosecution, the judge decided to extend the detention of my son until the court hearing, but our lawyer wasn't informed about the timing of the extension until now."

18 Dec - Quds TV correspondent Linda Shalash was injured by a gas grenade when clashes broke out between Israeli Occupation Forces and the families of Palestinian detainees while she was covering the events of the prisoner swap outside of Ofer prison, near Ramallah, following the release of Gilad Shalit. Shalash said that she went on the evening of Sunday 18 December 2011 to cover the events in front of the Ofer prison, and while on air she was struck on the shoulder by a tear gas canister fired directly at her by IOF soldiers. Shalash added: "It was a very dangerous situation where I lost consciousness and suffered severe bruising on my shoulder. I was transferred directly to the hospital for treatment."

28 Dec - Israeli occupation forces arrested Palestine News Agency (PNN) and Al-Khaleej Emirates newspaper reporter, Amin Abu Wardeh, from his home in the city of Nablus, West Bank, on 28 December 2011. His brother, Samir Abu Wardeh, said a large unit of occupation forces came to the building where his brother lives at approximately 1:15 am, when soldiers broke the main doors and raided the building from two sides. Abu Wardeh added: "They entered directly into my brother's apartment and ordered him to show his identity card, then they arrested him immediately, without charge or reason. He is now detained in Hawara detention camp."

28 Dec - Internal security services of the Hamas government in Gaza banned Palestinian News Agency (WAFA) correspondent and Palestinian Journalists Syndicate Secretariat member, Sami Ajrami, from crossing the Rafah border into Egypt on 28 December. Ajrami told MADA that security staff at the Rafah crossing prevented him from travelling on the grounds that his name is on a list of persons banned from travel. Ajrami added: "When I inquired about the ban, I learned that Gaza court prosecutors had decided to ban all council members of the Syndicate from traveling, because the "journalists bloc" had filed a complaint to the court demanding that the government ban us from travel so we can not represent the Syndicate outside of Palestine. This decision was issued nine months ago, but none of the Syndicate members knew about it. "

30 Dec - Israeli occupation forces attacked Al-Hayat Al-Jadedah newspaper photographer Essam Rimawi while covering the weekly march in the village of Nabi Saleh, near Ramallah, on Friday 30 Dec 2011. Rimawi told MADA that he went to the village on Friday to cover the weekly march, during which time occupation forces fired a barrage of tear gas canisters on protesters and journalists, with one striking him on the leg. Rimawi added: "I was standing at a distance of only 100 meters from the occupation soldiers so the injury was severe and cause a lot of pain. I received first aid treatment in the ambulance at the scene before being transferred to hospital. Doctors found I had severe bruising and told me to rest for one week."

31 Dec - Israeli occupation forces attacked Pal Media agency photographer Ashraf Abu Shawish during his coverage of the weekly march in the village of A'sira near the city of Nablus, on Saturday 31 December 2011. Abu Shawish told MADA that he was covering clashes that had erupted between occupation forces and the people of the village from the roof of a building, when a soldier fired a tear gas projectile at him. Shawish was unable to escape the gas and suffered asphyxiation and nearly lost consciousness before his colleagues began administering first aid. He was later treated on the field by medics for the effects of severe gas inhalation.

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