The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) strongly condemns the distention of three Palestinian journalists and a columnist by the Palestinian General Intelligence Service (GIS) in Bethlehem and Qalqilya towns in the West Bank on Thursday, 8 May 2008. PCHR believes that such arrests constitute an attack on press freedoms and the right to freedom of expression, which are ensured by the Palestinian Basic Law and international human rights instruments.
According to investigations conducted by PCHR and the testimony of cameraman Aseed ‘Abdul Majeed ‘Amarna, 23, at approximately 12:00 on Thursday, 8 May 2008, ‘Amarna was photographing a march organized in Bethlehem on the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (the uprooting of the Palestinian people from their land in 1948). When the march arrived in al-‘Azza refugee camp, north of the town, a person wearing civilian clothes approached ‘Amarna. He ordered him to stop photographing and to accompany him. When that person knew that ‘Amarna was photographing for the al-Aqsa Satellite Channel of Hamas, two other persons came and confiscated the camera. The three persons then pushed ‘Amarna into a military vehicle and transported him to the headquarters of the GIS in Bethlehem. According to ‘Amarna, he was sporadically interrogated about his work until 23:00. After ‘Amarna had shown the interrogators a court ruling acquitting him of previous charges related to his work, and after the Head of the Palestinian Journalists’ Union, Na’im al-Tubassi, had intervened to ensure his release, ‘Amarna was eventually released at 23:30, but he was ordered to refer to the GIS on Sunday, 11 May 2008. The interrogators seized his camera.
‘Amarna had been arrested together with ‘Alaa’ al-Teeti, both working for the al-Aqsa Satellite Channel, by the Preventive Security Service in Hebron on 7 November 2007. On 24 April 2008, the District Court in Hebron acquitted them of charges, following 6 court sessions to consider their case, “due to the lack of evidence and the absence of eyewitnesses.”
In the same context, the GIS arrested two journalists and a columnist in Qalqilya. According to investigations conducted by PCHR and the testimony of cameraman Mustafa ‘Ali Sabri, 41, at approximately 22:30 on Thursday, 8 May 2008, Sabri received a phone call from a person who introduced himself as a GIS officer and asked him where he was. Sabri offered to go the headquarters of the GIS himself, but the caller insisted to know where he was.
Sabri told him that he was in the hosting house of Dr. Hashem al-Masri, a member of the municipal council of Qalqilya. Soon, a number of GIS officers arrived at the area. One of them phoned Sabri and asked him to get out and he did. The officers arrested him and took him to the headquarters of the GIS. Sabri was released on Saturday afternoon, 10 May 2008, but he was ordered to refer to the GIS again on Monday, 12 May 2008. He told PCHR that he was interrogated about the distribution of a leaflet in Qalqilya criticizing Palestinian security services, and he denied any knowledge about it. He added that he was subjected to cruel treatment during detention. Sabri is a freelance journalist and a member of the municipal council of Qalqilya.
At the same time, the GIS arrested Dr. ‘Essam Mohammed Shawar, 42. According to investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 22:30 also on Thursday, a number of GIS officers went to Shawar’s house to arrest him, and when they did not find him, they took the number of his mobile phone from his wife. They phoned him and he informed them that he was in Kfar Saba neighborhood. They went there and arrested him. Shawar is a dentist and also a columnist in Palestine Daily, which is published in Gaza and whose distribution in the West Bank has been banned for several months.
At approximately 23:00 on Thursday also, the GIS arrested Mohammed ‘Omar Darwish, 32, a cameraman of Associated Press and the owner of Marah studio of photography, from his studio. They took him to the headquarters of the GIS.
PCHR strongly condemns these attacks and:
1) Expresses utmost concern over the recurrence of violations of the right to freedom of expression and press freedoms, and calls for providing protection to journalists and the media to be able to work freely.
2) Stresses that the right to freedom of expression is ensured by the Palestinian Basic Law and international human rights instruments.