CPJ urges Gaza to allow entry of newspapers

New York, July 9, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on authorities in Gaza to allow three pro-Fatah Palestinian papers published in the West Bank to be allowed entry into the territory. The newspapers say they were told they had to sign an agreement stating they would not criticize the government before they’d be allowed to distribute in Gaza.

The West Bank-printed newspapers had been banned since 2008 as part of Israeli sanctions on the Gaza Strip. On July 6, the Israeli authorities announced that they would allow the three daily papers, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, Al-Ayyam, and Al-Quds, to enter Gaza. However, on July 7, Hamas security forces stopped distributors in Gaza from picking them up after the Erez crossing, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. The papers, considered pro-Fatah, have not been allowed to enter the territory since.

Abdel Nasser Al-Najjar, the chairman of Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and the editorial director of Al-Ayyam, said that the newspapers have been directed to sign a document that ensures they will not criticize Hamas in order to enter the strip. “Hamas unofficially asked the officials of the newspapers to sign, and when we try to contact Hamas officials they refuse to talk or comment on that,” he said. 

Hasan Abu Hashisha, the director of the Hamas Information Office, told CPJ that Hamas did not request such a document. “It is not true,” he said. He added that authorities in Gaza ask for all Palestinian publications to be printed and distributed in both Gaza and the West Bank. “There are Palestinian publications that have banned from distribution or print in the West Bank for the past three years, and their offices are closed,” he said, mentioning the Islamist weekly, Al-Risala, and the pro-Hamas Al-Filastin daily.   

“We call on the Hamas government to allow all newspapers to be freely distributed in Gaza,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “To demand that newspapers agree not to criticize the government is an unacceptable form of censorship.”

Mousa Rimawi, from the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom (MADA) told CPJ that the situation is “nothing new.” The rift between Hamas and Fatah intensified in 2007, when Hamas won the elections in Gaza and took power.  Rimawi said the ban on the three newspapers is an attempt by Hamas to pressure the papers not to criticize the party, and an attempt to pressure the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank to allow media outlets that are affiliated with Hamas to operate freely.