Hamas detains bureau chief in Gaza

New York, January 23, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the detention in Gaza of a Palestinian newspaper bureau chief by the Hamas government’s internal security services.

Hamas security agents arrested Munir Abu Rizq, Gaza bureau chief for the daily Al-Hayat al-Jadida, on January 15 while he was on his way to surrender to authorities, according to CPJ sources. Abu Rizq was taken to Al-Mashtal detention center and continues to be held incommunicado. The paper reported on Sunday that Abu Rizq had been transferred to Al-Saraya detention facility in Gaza.

Based in Ramallah, Al-Hayat al-Jadida is considered pro-Fatah.

Hamas security forces attempted to arrest Abu Rizq at his home on January 13, but he was not there at the time, CPJ sources said. They also went to the paper’s office in Gaza to arrest him the following day, and briefly detained one of his brothers to compel him to surrender, the sources said.

“We are troubled that a journalist has been held without charge by Hamas authorities and fear he is being punished for working at Al-Hayat al-Jadida,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on authorities to charge Munir Abu Rizq with a recognizable offense or release him at once.”

The reasons for his arrest remain murky. Local journalists told CPJ that the journalist is facing allegations of deliberately publishing fabricated news against Hamas and using the paper’s offices to issue statements on behalf of Fatah among other accusations. A local journalist told CPJ that Al-Hayat al-Jadida had received a written warning a couple of months ago, directing them to change their editorial line toward Hamas.
Taher al-Nunu, a Hamas government spokesman, told CPJ that Abu Rizq was not being held because of his journalism. He said Abu Rizq was arrested pursuant to criminal complaints made by newspaper employees and other citizens. He said the government would announce the findings when its investigation is completed. No timeframe for the completion of the investigation was disclosed.

Abu Rizq is the second person affiliated with the paper to be arrested by Hamas authorities in Gaza. Omar al-Ghoul, a daily columnist for Al-Hayat al-Jadida and an adviser to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, was detained in mid-December, local journalists told CPJ. He has been held since then without formal charges. Local journalists told CPJ that they suspect al-Ghoul was detained for political reasons.

Hamas forcefully seized control of Gaza in June 2007. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the Palestinian government, firing Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas, and ending three months of power sharing between the two factions. An emergency government was set up in the West Bank with Salam Fayyad as prime minister. In Gaza, Haniya remained the de facto leader.