Palestinian cameraman arrested by Hamas

New York, July 28, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the July 26 arrest of a Palestinian cameraman in Gaza by Hamas security services.

Hamas security agents arrested Sawah Abu Seif, a cameraman with German broadcaster ARD TV in his home in Tel al-Hawa in southwest Gaza following an explosion that Hamas blamed on Fatah, which killed six people in Gaza, according to local journalists and international news reports. The cameraman had not filmed the explosion or its aftermath; he was picked up in a roundup of Palestinians with suspected links to Fatah, according to The Associated Press.

“We call on Hamas to explain why it has detained Sawah Abu Seif, who has been working as a cameraman in the Gaza Strip for many years,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director.

Abu Seif, 42, has worked for the station for the last seven years, according to his colleague Zakaria Hassan Ahmed, who told CPJ that Abu Seif’s laptop and cell phone were confiscated during his arrest.

The reasons for the arrest remain unclear. Local journalists told CPJ that they believe Abu Seif has been detained under suspicion of favoring the Fatah government. Before joining ARD TV, Abu Seif had been working with state-run Palestine satellite TV channel.

AP reported that ARD bureau chief Richard Schneider said he told senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar that Abu Seif “was not active in Fatah.” AP quoted Schneider as saying, “he is working as a journalist only and nothing else.” A local journalist told CPJ that Abu Seif had been harassed awhile ago–possibly about two months ago–by Hamas security agents.

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 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.

Hamdi Shakkura, deputy director of the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, told CPJ, “Unfortunately, recently there has been a decrease in public freedom as a result of the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, and journalists are paying the cost of this conflict.”