RSF calls for the release of three Palestinian journalists

On 12 April 2002, RSF called on Israeli army chief General Shaul Moffaz to release three Palestinian journalists held by the army for over a week.

RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said the three journalists - London-based Arab television station ANN reporter Ahmed Assi and editor-in-chief Ashraf Farraj and journalist Jalal Hameid, both with the privately-owned Bethlehem television station Al-Rouah - had apparently just been “doing their job.” He noted in a letter to General Moffaz that no explanation had been given for their detention and that RSF was especially concerned because it was not known where Assi was being held.

After a 5 to 7 April fact-finding mission to Israel, RSF said it counted about forty cases of obstruction of press freedom (journalists have been wounded, injured, arrested, expelled or threatened) since the start of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian towns and cities. The organisation accused the Israeli army of targeting the press in “a deliberate policy of intimidation.”

On the morning of 2 April, Atta Iweisat, a photographer working for the Israeli daily “Yediot Aharonot” and the Gamma agency, was arrested in Ramallah while in the company of foreign journalists (see IFEX alert of 3 April 2002). While Iweisat knelt handcuffed in the pouring rain in the middle of the street, he noticed Assi, who was also on his knees and handcuffed, a few metres away with others who had been arrested. The prisoners were then blindfolded and taken to the Beitunia detention centre, near Ramallah, where they were interrogated. Iweisat was freed at around 4 p.m. (local time). He did not know what had happened to Assi.

On 3 April, Ashraf Farraj and Hameid were arrested by the Israeli army at the press centre in Bethlehem with several other journalists. According to Hamdi Farraj, head of Al-Rouah TV, Israeli soldiers destroyed equipment and confiscated film cassettes and portable telephones. The other journalists were freed soon afterwards, but Ashraf Farraj and Hameid were taken to the Beitunia centre where hundreds of Palestinians are reportedly being held.

Since the start of the current Israeli offensive, the Israeli army has arrested several Palestinian journalists. Some have been humiliated, while others have been threatened or had their equipment confiscated. Israeli soldiers have also occupied the offices of several local and Arab TV stations. On 8 April, four Israeli soldiers broke into the offices of Abu Dhabi TV and Nile TV, in Ramallah, by breaking down the door. Asef Hmaidi, Abu Dhabi TV’s correspondent in Ramallah, said the soldiers ordered the journalists to lie on the floor. “They damaged everything, the desks, doors, chairs. They checked everything and confiscated our mobile phones,” he added.