Israeli forces arrest Palestinian freelance journalist

New York, July 9, 2013–Israeli authorities should immediately release a Palestinian freelance journalist who was arrested in a nighttime raid last week, and drop the charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Israeli security forces arrested Mohammed al-Azza early on July 1 in a raid of his family’s compound at the entrance of Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem, al-Azza’s uncle, Nidal al-Azza, told CPJ. After al-Azza’s family initially refused to turn over the journalist, soldiers beat and handcuffed several of them, including Nidal. Nidal said al-Azza was being held in Ofer prison in the West Bank.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement to CPJ that al-Azza was “proactively arrested … for questioning due to involvement in violent terror activities.” The IDF said the journalist had physically resisted arrest and IDF forces had to restrain family members after they caused a “large disturbance.” An inquiry performed by the force’s commanders concluded “the arrest was carried out properly,” the statement said.

A judge ordered al-Azza to be released on bail of 1,500 shekels (approximately US$400), but then withdrew the decision after the prosecutor appealed for a 24-hour extension to provide more evidence against the journalist, Nidal told CPJ. The prosecution claimed that al-Azza had participated in protests against Israeli security forces and had prior knowledge of them, Nidal said.

Al-Azza’s lawyer, who has been negotiating for the journalist’s release, said he would likely be freed on Wednesday on a larger bail of 2,500 shekels (approximately $US680).

Al-Azza’s work has been published in several news outlets, including the Palestine News Network, an independent news organization established in 2003. In recent months, he has documented ongoing clashes between Israeli security forces and local residents in the camp, and on April 8, he was shot in the face by an Israeli soldier with a rubber-coated bullet. Al-Azza also teaches photography and journalism at the Lajee Center, a cultural center in the Aida Refugee Camp.

“As they have in other cases, Israeli authorities make the very serious charge of terrorism but offer no details or evidence to support their assertion,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Mohammed al-Azza’s documentation of protests and clashes does not constitute violent terror activities. He should be released immediately and the charges should be dropped.”

Another Palestinian journalist, Mohammad Saba’aneh, was released on July 1 after serving a five-month sentence for purported “contact with a hostile organization,” according to news reports. Saba’aneh, a cartoonist for Al-Hayat al-Jadida, was detained on February 20 while crossing the border from Jordan and held for weeks without charge, according to news reports. Saba’aneh has drawn numerous cartoons focusing on the plight of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention.

  • For more data and analysis, visit CPJ’s Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory page here.