New York, July 22, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by new threats against Palestinian journalists covering political unrest in the Gaza Strip, the most recent in a months-long series of actions by Palestinian militants and forces intended to stifle independent reporting there.
Journalists working for the Qatar-based satellite channel Al-Jazeera and the Dubai-based satellite channel Al-Arabiyya told CPJ they received telephone threats this week from men identifying themselves as Palestinian Authority (PA) security personnel or dissident members of President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization. The threats centered on the stations’ coverage of fighting in the Gaza Strip that followed Arafat’s July 17 appointment of his cousin, Musa Arafat, as head of security for the Palestinian territories.
Saifeddin Shahin, Gaza correspondent for of Al-Arabiyya, said a person claiming to represent the PA security forces threatened to burn the station’s bureau if the station was not careful about what it reported, a reference to the station’s recent coverage of the internal political situation. A correspondent from Al-Jazeera said a caller identifying himself as a representative of a dissident wing of Fatah told the journalist the station would “bear responsibility” for what it had reported.
Security for Palestinian journalists has been tenuous during the past year; lawlessness has grown and armed groups, some associated with PA forces, have assaulted several reporters.
In April, Agence France Presse photographer Jamal Aruri was brutally assaulted by three men he believes were PA security personnel or militants close to the PA. The attack came after a photograph of three men, which Aruri had taken in 2003, was republished. The men, wanted by Israel, had been holed up in Yasser Arafat’s compound when Aruri took the photo.
In February, three masked Palestinian men carrying automatic rifles stormed the offices of Ramallah-based Al-Quds Educational Television, assaulted staff, and destroyed equipment for reasons that remain unclear. Also in February, unknown perpetrators destroyed computer equipment in the office of the Gaza City weekly newspaper Al-Daar, which was allied with former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan.
In the past year, correspondents for Al-Arabiyya have been beaten by armed gunmen or had their offices ransacked.
In a related development this week, the pro-PA Palestinian Journalists’ Association threatened local journalists covering internal strife among Palestinian militant and political organizations. According to Reuters, which reported a partial text of the July 20 statement, the association announced a ban “on dealing with or handling any type of statements that touch on internal events and carry between their lines words that slander, libel or harm others.” The statement said journalists who violated this code would be punished, though it did not specify the punishment.
Several Palestinian journalists told CPJ they have ignored the order, but have become more cautious in their reporting for fear of reprisal.
Similarly, in August 2002, the syndicate tried to bar journalists from photographing Palestinian children wearing military uniforms or carrying weapons, arguing that such footage violated children’s rights and served “the interests of Israel and its propaganda against the Palestinian people.” The order was rescinded a few days later amid local and international protest.
“We deplore these attempts to stifle independent reporting at a time when Palestinians most need information on these vital political developments,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The Palestinian Journalists’ Association should rescind its attempt to censor the media.”