Letters   |   Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory

CPJ urges Olmert to lift Gaza press ban


January 17, 2009

Ehud Olmert
Prime Minister
3 Kaplan Street
Hakirya
Israel

Via e-mail: pm_eng@pmo.gov.il

Dear Prime Minister Olmert,

Since the Israeli military campaign began last month, international journalists have been denied independent access to Gaza. Your government has offered various explanations for its decision to ban the international press, but the primary justifications have been a professed concern for the safety of reporters themselves and a concern that the mere presence of the press could interfere with ongoing military operations.

While the Committee to Protect Journalists has never viewed these as legitimate reasons for blocking press access to Gaza, we note that the new cease-fire agreement makes them entirely obsolete. We urge your government to immediately lift the ban and allow international journalists to independently report on events in Gaza.

CPJ has raised our concerns previously with your government. On January 6, we wrote to Defense Minister Ehud Barak to ask that your government allow international journalists into Gaza. We have also sought an explanation for the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) bombings of two buildings that house international media organizations in Gaza City.

Now that active hostilities have ceased we urge you to conduct a prompt investigation into the targeting of all media facilities in Gaza. We ask that the investigation into these incidents be prompt and comprehensive and we ask that you make your findings public.

We recognize that the situation on the ground remains tenuous, but as an organization of journalists we believe there are critical issues of international law that impact not only the work of journalists in Gaza but in conflict zones around the world.

International human rights law dictates that the press may be denied access to war zones for only the narrowest and most specific of security reasons. The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of 1995, a synthesis of international law and state practices, states that governments "may not exclude journalists ... from areas that are experiencing violence or armed conflict except where their presence would pose a clear risk to the safety of others." It adds that the "burden of demonstrating the validity of the restriction rests with the government." A general ban clearly violates this standard.

As noted, we also call on you to provide an explanation for the IDF's bombing of Al-Johara and Al-Shuruq towers, which house dozens of international media organizations. The two attacks, which were carried out respectively on January 9 and 15, destroyed communications equipment and injured at least three journalists. International law provides explicit protections for journalists and media installations that may not be abrogated even during military operations.        

Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters.


Sincerely,

Joel Simon 
Executive Director


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