Palestinian Authority ignores court, jails journalist

New York, February 26, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to heed a High Court order and release journalist Tariq Abu Zaid immediately.

A four-person special military court in Nablus sentenced Abu Zaid, a correspondent who reported on camera for Hamas-run AlAqsa TV, to 18 months in prison on February 16 on charges of “undermining the status of the authority, and resisting the public policy of the Palestinian Authority,” his lawyer, Bassam Karajeh, told CPJ. Karajeh said authorities have not responded to demands that they explain why the journalist was tried in a military court. Abu Zaid has been held at Al-Junied prison in Nablus since he was first arrested in August 2009. 

According to Karajeh, Abu Zaid was arrested by the Palestinian Military Intelligence Service in August 2009 for working with Al-Aqsa TV, which the PA banned in the West Bank in September 2007. He was never indicted. The Palestinian High Court of Justice in Ramallah ordered his immediate release on January 12 but the ruling has not been implemented. Abu Zeid’ family and the lawyer went to Al-Junied prison with the High Court’s release order but were told by security officers that Abu Zaid was being charged by the military judiciary for reporting for a news outlet that has been banned by the PA.

The defense team has also sent the court order to the Intelligence Department and to the Council of Ministers but no action has been taken to release the journalist, according to the Karejah.

“The Palestinian Authority must comply with the High Court’s decision and release Tariq Abu Zaid immediately,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “He has not received due process and the authorities have not explained why as a civilian he was tried in a military court.

Abu Zaid’s lawyer called the military court’s decision illegal since “according to Palestinian law, it is not the mandate of the military judiciary to consider his case” as a civilian. “Furthermore the High Court had issued a decision to release him, so his arrest is unlawful,” Karajeh said.

Hamas consolidated control of the Gaza Strip while the Palestinian Authority retained Fatah rule in the West Bank in June 2007. That month, members of the PA’s Presidential Guard attacked Al-Aqsa TV’s office in Ramallah, and security forces shut down the station altogether in the West Bank by September. Hamas also attacked the official Palestinian broadcasting outlets, Palestine TV and Voice of Palestine, that June.