Firsthand accounts from reporters who were on the flotilla of humanitarian activists raided by Israeli forces on Monday are finally coming out as the journalists are released from custody. These early reports indicate that soldiers harassed international journalists—at least six had their equipment either confiscated or destroyed, according to CPJ interviews and news reports. Media accounts have indicated that 60 journalists or more were aboard the ships; on Tuesday, CPJ independently verified the names and affiliations of 20 journalists who had been taken into custody.
Othman Battiri, a senior producer at Al-Jazeera who was on board the Mavi Marmara and released on Tuesday, told CPJ that soldiers confiscated Al-Jazeera’s cameras, tapes, satellite phones, and mobile phones. Battiri and his colleagues—Mohamed Vall, Jamal Elshayyal, and Andre Abou Khalil—identified themselves as press, and had their wrists tied with PlastiCuffs. They were also pushed and searched “in a humiliating way,” Battiri said.
“For sure, there is a psychological aftermath because of the way people were treated, especially journalists,” he said. “We were supposed to cover this and it is not right that we were treated in this way.” Battiri added that they were released “only in T-shirts and trousers” and without their equipment.
Al-Jazeera reporter Vall was released and sent to Jordan on Wednesday morning. “The Israeli assault took those of us on the ship by complete surprise,” Vall told Aljazeera.net. “We saw about 30 war vessels surrounding this ship, and helicopters attacking with very luminous bombs.”
Issam Za’atar, an Al-Jazeera photographer who was on the ship, taken into custody, and released on Tuesday, reported that the Israeli soldiers used force, breaking his arm and his camera. He also added that he went through a “long and exhausting interrogation.”
According to the Pakistani daily Express Tribuna, two journalists for Pakistan’s Aaj TV, Talat Hussain and Raza Mehmood Agha, who had been detained at Ela prison in Beersheba arrived in Jordan today. Their equipment was also confiscated.
Hussain was quoted as telling Aaj TV by phone from Jordan: “Four people were shot in the forehead in front me. I witnessed four people dying.”
We anticipate that more details will emerge as journalists are being released, although so far reporters appear to be leaving the country without their recording equipment.