Israeli forces detain journalists aboard humanitarian flotilla

New York, June 1, 2010–Israel should immediately release the journalists it detained along with hundreds of peace activists on Monday after Israeli forces stormed a convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. According to international news reports and CPJ interviews, Israeli forces arrested at least 20 journalists aboard the humanitarian flotilla; three have since been released.

“We condemn the arrests of these journalists, who were on the boats reporting an unfolding news event,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “Israel must give a full accounting of all the journalists in its custody. We call on the government to release all journalists immediately so they can continue to cover this breaking story.”

Sydney Morning Herald correspondent Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty are being held at Ela Prison in Beersheba, Janet Rosenberg, the Sydney Morning Herald‘s night chief of staff, told CPJ. Both McGeough and Geraghty have received consular visits and will be deported in the next few days, Rosenberg said. Brazilian documentarian Iara Lee is also being detained by the Israeli military, according to her Web site, Cultures of Resistance.

Israel also detained at least six members of an Al-Jazeera crew, although it released Othman Battiri, Mohammed Vall, and Ali Sabri today, according an Al-Jazeera news bulletin. Abbas Nasser, Waseema bin Saleh Wissam, and Andre Abou Khalil remain in custody in a prison near Beersheba, West Bank-based Al-Jazeera producer Wessam Hammad told CPJ. 

Reporter Svetoslav Ivanov and cameraman Valentin Vassilev of the Bulgarian television station BTV were arrested then transferred to the deportation division of Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, where they are being held, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov said in a media statement. South African Radio 786 correspondent Gadija Davids was arrested but her whereabouts were unknown, Radio 786’s News Editor Zubeida Samsodein told CPJ. David Segarra, correspondent for Caracas-based South American television channel Telesur is missing, according to the channel. CPJ was unable to ascertain Segarra’s condition or whether he is in Israeli custody. Telesur called for his immediate release in a statement.

Abbas al-Lawati, correspondent for the Dubai-based Gulf News was being detained in Israel and should be deported in the next few days, his brother Mohamed al-Lawati told CPJ. Talat Hussain, correspondent for Pakistani television channel Aaj TV was arrested, and is expected to be released within next 12 hours, the Pakistani Ministry of Interior said in a statement. Muna Shester, reporter for the Kuwait News Agency, was also said to be missing, according to international news reports. CPJ was unable to determine Shester’s condition or whether she was in Israeli custody.

Foreign News Chief Sümeyye Ertekin, producer Ümit Sönmez, and cameraman Ersin Esen of the Turkish broadcaster VNET were arrested and transferred to Ben Gurion Airport to be deported, according to Turkish news reports. Italian journalist Angela Lano is being held in Ela prison, according to the Rome-based ANSA news agency.

Six ships left Turkey on Sunday carrying approximately 700 people to deliver 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007.