Israel arrests head of Palestinian prison news channel

New York, May 22, 2012–Israeli authorities should release the director of a new Palestinian satellite broadcaster who has been detained since Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Israeli soldiers arrested Bahaa Khairi Moussa, the general director of the Palestine Prisoner Channel, a news broadcaster based in the West Bank, at his home in the city of Jenin, and confiscated the station’s equipment, according to news reports. Authorities have not disclosed Moussa’s whereabouts or the charges against him, local and regional press freedom groups reported.

The Palestine Prisoner Channel, which began broadcasting a month ago, features news coverage including reports and interviews with Palestinian prisoners on their status and condition in Israeli jails. The news broadcaster’s executive director, Saher al-Qassim, said in a statement that his colleagues believed Moussa’s arrest stemmed from the station’s specialized coverage of Palestinian prisoners. The arrest occurred days after about 2,000 Palestinian prisoners waged a month-long hunger strike for more rights in the Israeli detention system, news reports said.

The Israel Defense Forces has not released a statement about the director’s arrest or the confiscation of equipment. Al-Qassim said the Palestine Prisoner Channel has continued to broadcast by using backup equipment.

“Israeli authorities should consider the message they are sending by imprisoning the head of a station that covers news about prisoners,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Authorities should not be holding Bahaa Khairi Moussa, and certainly not without explanation. He should be released immediately, and the station’s equipment should be returned.”

Issa Qaraqe, the Palestinian minister of prisoner affairs, said Moussa’s arrest was “illegal and arbitrary,” and said the channel had legal authorization to broadcast from the Palestinian Authority, The Jerusalem Post reported.

In late February, CPJ documented a raid by Israeli soldiers on two Palestinian TV stations, Wattan TV and Al-Quds Educational Television, in which equipment from both stations was confiscated. CPJ wrote a letter to Israeli Minister of Communications Moshe Kachlon on May 8, calling on the ministry to return the seized equipment of independent broadcaster Wattan TV. CPJ has yet to receive a response.

In a separate incident in the region, Shamikh al-Jaghoub, a Palestinian cameraman for the satellite news broadcaster Palestine TV, sought treatment for tear gas inhalation at a hospital after Israeli soldiers shot tear gas at journalists covering a protest in the West Bank town of Kafr Qaddum near Nablus on Friday, according to news reports.