Hamas should halt censorship; Fatah also faulted

New York, July 29, 2008–The Hamas-led government in Gaza should immediately halt a wave of censorship and harassment of Palestinian media outlets and journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. CPJ also called on the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority to end its longstanding obstruction of certain media outlets in the West Bank

On Tuesday, for the second consecutive day, Hamas banned distribution in Gaza of three newspapersAl-AyyamAl-Quds, and Al-Hayat al-Jadidadeemed close to the Fatah Movement led by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, according to several local journalists and human rights workers. On Saturday, its security forces raided the Gaza bureau of the official Palestinian News Agency (WAFA) and seized equipment, the news agency reported on its Web site.

The crackdown followed a Saturday explosion in Gaza that killed six people. Hamas blamed the blast on elements in Fataha charge that Fatah disputed, blaming the explosion on an internal conflict. The day of the blast, Hamas security agents arrested Sawah Abu Seif, a cameraman with German broadcaster ARD TV, in his home in southwest Gaza. Abu Seif was still being held today by security forces, local journalists and rights workers told CPJ.

“It is shocking to see the deterioration of press freedom in the West Bank and Gaza, areas that for decades relied on the presence of independent journalists to bring the Palestinian story to the world,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Hamas and the Palestinian Authority must stop using the media as pawns in their political battle. Both sides must end censorship and harassment of journalists immediately.”

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority has maintained its distribution ban on the pro-Hamas Al-Risala and Al-Falastin, both Gaza-based publications, local journalists told CPJ. The ban has been in place since June 14, 2007. Fatah, like Hamas, has accused the targeted newspapers of favoring the other side.

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

“People have every right to get news and informationand denying them this right is a violation of human rights,” Hamdi Shakkura, deputy director of Palestinian Center for Human Rights, told CPJ. “We are following the situation very seriously and demand the authorities to stop these acts.”