PALESTINE: Open season on broadcast media (Posted June 2, 2000)
June 2, 2000
His Excellency Yasser Arafat
Palestinian National Authority
VIA FACSIMILE: +972-7-282-2365
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to protest recent attempts by the Palestinian National Authority to silence private broadcast media in the West Bank.
On May 30, Palestinian police ordered the closure of the Ramallah-based television station Al-Nasser TV and its sister radio station, Al-Menara. According to staff at the stations, police officers from the Criminal Investigation Unit visited both offices, which are housed in the same building, and announced that the stations were being closed. All employees were told to evacuate the premises immediately. No reason was given for the closure order.
Although staff members were unclear about the motive for the closures, other Palestinian journalists told CPJ that the order might have been triggered by a recent talk show on Al-Nasser TV during which members of the Palestinian Legislative Council criticized the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). One legislator reportedly suggested on the air that a new Palestinian leadership might be necessary if progress was not soon made on the issue of Palestinian statehood.
On May 31, PNA authorities informed Al-Nasser TV and Al-Menara radio director Ammar Ammar that Al-Menara could resume broadcasting but that the ban on Al-Nasser TV remained in effect.
CPJ has also learned that Palestinian police last night ordered the closure of the Bethlehem-based station Al-Mahid TV, again without explanation, and arrested its owner, Samir Qomsiyya. Sources in the West Bank told CPJ that the station’s office had been locked and that employees were prohibited from entering. They also said that the raid might have resulted from a letter that Qomsiyya recently sent to Your Excellency in his capacity as head of the unofficial Union of Private Radio and Television Broadcasters in Palestine, protesting the PNA’s recent clampdown on television and radio stations in the West Bank.
In a separate incident at the end of May, Palestinian authorities arrested Fathi Barqawi, director of news programming for the official Voice of Palestine radio station. The reason for the arrest remains unclear, although police reportedly accused Barqawi of “incitement” and defaming Your Excellency. Barqawi remains in jail.
In recent weeks, CPJ has documented the followings acts of arbitrary interference with Palestinian broadcast media carried out by the PNA:
On the evening of May 21, Palestinian police from the Criminal Investigation Unit in Ramallah summoned Omar Nazal, director of the private television station Al-Watan, and ordered him to cease broadcasting immediately. Police provided no reason for the order. On May 23, the Ministry of Information informed Nazal that the station could resume broadcasting. But when station employees attempted to return to work, armed police officers raided the station and evacuated the premises. Nazal was detained for one hour, and accused of disregarding the police’s closure order. When Nazal explained that the Ministry of Information had given him permission to broadcast, the police replied that they did not recognize the Ministry’s authority. The station was eventually allowed to resume broadcasting on May 24. According to Nazal, the closure marked the fifth time the station had been closed since it began broadcasting in 1996.
On May 5, Palestinian police from the Criminal Investigation Unit in Ramallah ordered Mu’taz Bseiso, director of the radio station Voice of Love and Peace, to cease broadcasting immediately. No reason was given for the closure; however, it followed the station’s broadcast of an interview with Omar Assaf, a representative of Palestinian teachers who were then on strike. Palestinian authorities arrested Assaf after the interview was broadcast; he has reportedly been accused of incitement and of disseminating false information. The radio station was allowed to resume broadcasting five days later.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ views these acts of censorship and arbitrary interference with the media as flagrant violations of the right to free expression as guaranteed under international law.
We respectfully urge Your Excellency to ensure that the closure orders against Al-Nasser TV and Al-Mahid TV are reversed immediately and that all journalists in the Palestine National Authority are able to carry out their professional duties without official harassment. We also call on you to see to it that the charges against Fathi Barqawi and Samir Qomsiyyah, if any, are made public at once. If Barqawi and Qomsiyyah were in fact jailed for exercising their right to free expression, as we suspect, we call for their immediate and unconditional release.
Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.
Ann K. Cooper