Reuters photographer detained by Israeli authorities without charges

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, strongly condemns the detention without charges of Reuters photographer, Suhaib Jadallah Salem, on 22 May 2002, and five other journalists who are being held by Israeli authorities and denied basic civil and human rights.

According to IPI sources, on the evening of 22 May, Israeli soldiers stopped Salem at a checkpoint in the Gaza Strip, as he was travelling in a Reuters vehicle towards the southern border town of Rafah. The driver of the vehicle and at least one other passenger travelling in the vehicle were also detained. The Israeli army has not produced an official explanation for the arrests, and its spokesmen have not returned phone calls on the case.

According to Reuters, Salem was heading towards Egypt for a flight to join the Reuters team of photographers covering the Football World Cup in South Korea and Japan (Palestinian security officials advised journalists last week that Israeli military forces required at least three passengers in vehicles on Gaza’s main road to deter lone suicide bombers).

Five other journalists are being held by Israeli authorities without charges, Jussry al-Jamal (Reuters), Hussam Abu Alan (AFP), Jalal Ehmad (Al-Roa), Maher al-Dessouki, (Al-Quds Educational TV), and Kamel Jbeil, (Al-Quds newspaper).

Jussry al-Jamal and Mazen Dana, Reuters cameramen, were arrested by Israeli Defence Forces on 30 April, in the West Bank city of Hebron, as they were filming in the vicinity of the Al-Ahli Hospital. They were blindfolded and handcuffed by Israeli Defence Forces and then taken away. Both men were forced to lie on the floor of the district co-ordination office for several hours without food or water. Dana was released on 1 May, but Jamal is still being detained without any formal charges.

Since his arrest, the Israeli Defence Forces have refused to disclose any information regarding Jamal, including details of his whereabouts, making it impossible for his family to visit him and for lawyers to get permission to see Jamal. After repeated calls for clarification and international protests, Shulamit Barnea, the legal adviser of Your Excellency, said in a letter to Reuters on 23 May that Jamal was “directly connected to enemy terrorist activities which have no connection to his job as a journalist” but did not elaborate. Israeli authorities have not responded to requests from Reuters for evidence to substantiate the allegations. Barnea told Reuters that she had no more information beyond what was in the letter.

On 24 April Hussam Abu Alan, a photographer for Agence France-Presse (AFP), was detained in a similar fashion while trying to cover a funeral of Palestinian militants. Abu Alan was also blindfolded and handcuffed, and taken to an undisclosed location where he remains detained by the Israeli Army.

IPI is also very concerned about the detention of Jalal Ehmad, a cameraman for the TV station Al-Roa, who was detained on 3 April, and Maher al-Dessouki, TV host on Al-Quds Educational TV, and Kamel Jbeil, reporter with the Al-Quds newspaper, who were both detained on 18 April. These men are also still being held.

With regard to the arrests of Salem, Jamal, Abu Alan, Ehmad, Dessouki and Jbeil, IPI believes that it is yet another attempt by the Israeli government to restrict the free flow of information through the intimidation and suppression of the media. No less than 75 per cent of all 220 press freedom violations recorded by IPI during the first 19 months of the Palestinian uprising were perpetrated by Israeli authorities.

The violations committed by Israeli authorities so far include the killings of four journalists and 59 other cases of injuries caused through the use of firearms against journalists, actions that are illegal under international laws and treaties to which Israel is a signatory, including Articles 19 and 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Articles 50, 51 and 79 of the Geneva Convention.

By arbitrarily detaining journalists and depriving them of the freedom to move and the freedom to report, as well as other basic human and civil rights, such as the rights to representation by legal council and to visits by relatives, the Israeli government is once again revealing its deep-seated animosity towards journalists. Furthermore, the Israeli government is displaying ignorance of the crucial role played by a free and independent media. A free press is essential to a democracy and that the government of Israel must learn to tolerate its activities.