CPJ alarmed by reports that Palestinian journalist was abused in custody

New York, August 1, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists is very concerned about the treatment of a Palestinian cameraman who was released Thursday after five days in the custody of security agents from the Hamas-led government in Gaza.

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 a deadly explosion that Hamas blamed on Fatah, 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.

ARD said the journalist was abused while in custody but did not give details. Richard C. Schneider, ARD bureau chief in Tel Aviv, told CPJ that the agency was relieved that Abu Seif had been released but shocked by his treatment in custody.

“I thank all the organizations, colleagues, and friends who called for my release,” Abu Seif told CPJ today. He declined to provide details of his treatment, noting that he has been asked to appear again at security offices on August 19.  He said he was interrogated in the al-Mashtal security office in Gaza, primarily about his work. Abu Seif said he had not been told he was charged with any crime.

A person answering the phone at the Hamas government spokesman’s office said the spokesman, Tahir al-Nunu, was not immediately available for comment. Subsequent calls to the office went unanswered.

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

On Friday, for the sixth consecutive day, Hamas has 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 activists.

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.