JERUSALEM (JTA) — The severe harassment of Palestinian journalists by Palestinian Authority and Hamas forces in the West Bank and Gaza has had a chilling effect on freedom of expression, a new report by Human Rights Watch found.
The 35-page report issued Wednesday documents cases in which Palestinian security forces tortured, beat and arbitrarily detained journalists in the West Bank and Gaza, in addition to confiscating their equipment and preventing them from leaving the Palestinian enclaves.
"Palestinian security forces are becoming notorious for assaulting and intimidating journalists who are just trying to do their jobs," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch. "Both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza need to end these blatant attacks on free expression."
Since Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, the majority of abuses against journalists in the West Bank and Gaza have been related to tensions between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the report found. In the West Bank, the primary targets are journalists whom PA security services suspected of working for television, radio, websites and newspapers seen as favoring Hamas or other Islamist groups such as Islamic Jihad, or are otherwise critical of the PA.
PA security services also have targeted independent journalists suspected of working on reports that might be critical of the PA, according to Human RIghts Watch.
In Gaza, Hamas internal security agents have summoned journalists for questioning, which the journalists interpreted as a form of intimidation, and government officials called some journalists to warn them that their coverage was "slanted" or "biased," the report found.
The majority of abuses documented by Human Rights Watch and reported by local rights groups involved the PA’s Preventive Security agency and General Intelligence Services, and the detention of civilian journalists by the PA’s military judiciary. The military judiciary recently said it would stop exercising jurisdiction over civilians, although many civilians are still detained by the military.
The report, based on interviews with Palestinian journalists, journalist syndicate representatives and PA officials, focuses on seven cases of journalists who were abused by PA security forces and documents two cases of abuse by Hamas internal security forces in Gaza. Alleged abuses by Hamas in Gaza as well as by Israeli military forces throughout the occupied Palestinian territories will be the focus of future reporting, Human Rights Watch said.