Israel urged again to free Palestinian journalists

Reporters Without Borders called on the Israeli government again today to free five imprisoned Palestinian journalists after one of them, Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Hussam Abu Alan (photo), had his ‘administrative detention’ for allegedly supporting ‘terrorists’ extended for five months on 23 July.

‘The arrest of these five journalists was completely arbitrary,’ said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. ‘The authorities say two of them helped terrorist organisations, but they have offered no proof of this. The three others have not even been told why they are being held. Some of the five have now been imprisoned for more than three months in very bad conditions.’

More than 20 Palestinian journalists have been arrested since the Israeli occupation of Palestinian towns and cities began on 29 March and some of them have been ill-treated.

Photographer Alan was arrested on 24 April at the Beit Anun checkpoint near Hebron on his way to cover the funeral of two Palestinians in Bani Naim. Soldiers blindfolded and handcuffed him. The Israeli army told AFP in writing on 3 May that he was suspected of ‘helping the Tanzim terrorist organisation,’ which is considered the armed wing of Al Fatah.

He was put in administrative detention for three months on 22 May and this was extended on 23 July by a military court. His lawyer, Mohammed Burghal, has appealed the decision to the Israeli Supreme Court. Alan has been transferred from the very bad conditions at Ofer detention centre near Ramallah to Ketzion prison, in the Negev desert.

Reuters sound man Yusri el-Jamal, who is also suspected of ‘helping a terrorist organisation,’ was arrested by soldiers on 30 April in front of Hebron hospital where he was part of a crew filming wounded people. Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana was also arrested.

They were taken, blindfolded and handcuffed, to the district coordination office, where they were forced to lie on the ground for several hours without food or drink. After they were interrogated the next morning, Dana received apologies and was freed.

But Jamal was detained and the army told Reuters of their suspicions about him though, as with Alan, offering no proof. He was put in administrative detention for three months on 22 May. A military court on 18 June rejected his application for release and on 11 July his detention was extended by three months. He is in the Ketzion prison.

Three other journalists are still being held without being told why. They are Khalid Ali Mohammed Zwawi, of the weekly El Istiqlal, was arrested in the middle of the night at his home in Nablus by Israeli soldiers who searched the house and seized material. He was taken to the Askalan detention centre and was recently transferred to Majedo prison.

Kamel Ali Jbeil, of the daily paper Al-Quds, was arrested by Israeli soldiers in Ramallah on 18 April and was put into administrative detention for three months on 5 May. This was extended for another three months on 1 July. He is being held at the Ofer detention centre.

Nizar Ramadan, correspondent of the newspaper Qater, was arrested in Hebron on 28 June, while he and his family were visiting neighbours, and taken to the Ofer detention centre. The same day, soldiers went to his office and seized and destroyed material there. On 6 July, the Israelis extended his detention by 18 days without explanation. His lawyer has not been allowed to visit him.

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world, as well as the right to inform the public and to be informed, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Reporters Without Borders has nine national sections (in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom), representatives in Abidjan, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Montreal, Moscow, Nairobi, New York, Tokyo and Washington and more than a hundred correspondents worldwide.