A Palestinian journalist is seeking asylum in Belgium after receiving a series of death threats.
Last month, he decided to flee the occupied West Bank because of threatening emails that had been sent to him. One of the messages warned that his throat would be cut.
Traveling through Jordan and Egypt, he arrived at Brussels international airport on 8 January, promptly applying for asylum. He is being detained in a center beside the airport while his application is being processed by the Belgian authorities.
Abunada has been working for Internews, a group that trains journalists, since 2012. Julia Pitner, the group’s Middle East director, said she was concerned that Belgium may reject Abunada’s bid.
“If he’s deported, where is he going to go?” she told The Electronic Intifada. “People in the [PA] government have been telling him not to come back.”
Under international law, it is only permissible to detain an applicant for asylum as a last resort. Yet Belgium has been accused by human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the UN Refugee Agency, of using detention for “reasons of administrative convenience.” In a 2011 paper, those groups stated that it was common for refugees to be detained for periods of up to two months.
Attack on free expression
Abunada had been asking fellow journalists to sign a petition opposing the “higher media council” bill. It would allow the PA to shut down media outlets, without requiring a court order, as is currently required.
It would also establish a council for regulating the media. Eighty percent of that council’s members would be PA appointees.
Mousa Rimawi, general director of the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), said by telephone that “the domination of the government [in the council] will limit freedom of expression.”
Aged 57, Abunada is the father of five children. He grew up in Gaza, where he was a director of programing with the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation.
In 2007, he angered Hamas, which had taken control of the internal administration of Gaza, by publishing a report on how its armed wing killed Samih al-Madhoun, a fighter affiliated to the rival Fatah.
Because of threats he received at that time, Abunada fled Gaza for Ramallah in the West Bank. He was shot by Israeli troops as he approached the Erez checkpoint separating Gaza from present-day Israel. The Israeli forces, however, allowed him to leave Gaza.
Since moving to the West Bank, he has published documents about corruption involving senior PA figures. Despite being a long-standing member of Fatah, he has been expelled from that party by its leadership.