New York, March 31, 2011--Hamas security forces assaulted and obstructed journalists trying to cover protests in Gaza on Wednesday, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the assaults and calls on the authorities in Gaza to end the harassment of journalists reporting from demonstrations.
Police attacked at least five journalists while they were covering several peaceful protests organized across Gaza on Land Day, local journalists told CPJ. Commemorated annually on March 30, Land Day memorializes the March 30, 1976, clashes after the announcement that Israel would expropriate thousands of acres of privately owned Palestinian land.
Among those physically assaulted were Wissam Mohamed Yasin, a correspondent for U.S. government-funded station Al-Hurra; Radio Watan reporters Ayyad Talal Taha and Mohamad al-Hassoun; and Al-Arabiya cameraman Mamdouh al-Sayyid, CPJ research shows. Al- Sayyid told CPJ that police briefly detained him and confiscated his video camera. Wajih al-Najjar, a reporter for the Palestinian News Agency WAFA, told CPJ that police beat and detained him for five hours. Officers confiscated his identification and press cards, but returned them to him after his release.
On Tuesday, authorities contacted several news agencies and media organizations warning them not to report on any unauthorized demonstrations, according to Abdel Nasser al- Najjar, head of the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate.
"These latest assaults on media in Gaza are yet another blatant attempt to suppress coverage of demonstrations in Gaza," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, issued a statement on Friday pledging that Hamas "would not interfere with any journalist whatsoever, be it in the form of physical assault, verbal abuse, or humiliation." Hassan Abu Hashish, head of the Hamas government press office, also vowed that security summons and arrests of journalists would come to an end and that all detained journalists would be released.
"The statement by Hamas' press office is an implicit admission that it has repeatedly engaged in violence and intimidation against journalists," said Abdel Dayem. "We call on Hamas to now carry out its pledge to end harassment of media and release all detained journalists immediately."
Abu Hashish added that "journalists would not be pursued and their offices would not be stormed without legal procedures in accordance with the law." The statement came after a series of attacks against media bureaus and journalists, the last of which was on March 19.