Palestinian photojournalist held without charge by Israel

Israel Defense Forces arrested photojournalist Hazem Naser on April 11, 2016 at a checkpoint near Nablus, a city in the West Bank, according to news reports. The Palestinian journalist was arrested for alleged Hamas-related activity, an Israeli security official told CPJ. As of May 17, 2016 no charges had been brought against Naser and his detention had been extended four times for questioning, the journalist’s lawyer, Saleh Ayyub, told CPJ over the phone.

Naser is a freelance journalist with TransMedia Palestine, a media production company that provides equipment and news crews and has offices in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus, Haifa, and Gaza. He is also a cameraman with Najah Broadcasting Channel, a Facebook group that focuses on Palestinian news and has more than 10,000 subscribers.

An Israeli security official told CPJ that Naser was arrested for Hamas-related activity. “Information was received pointing to his involvement in the planning of terror attacks, transferring funds for terror attacks, and his connection to activists in the Hamas terror organization,” the Israeli security official told CPJ via email.

Naser’s cousin, Mohammed Naser, told CPJ on May 4, 2016 that Naser reported on Hamas but was not engaged in any activities with the organization. “As a journalist, he wanted to speak with all sides, whether it’s Hamas or Fatah or anything else,” Mohammed Naser told CPJ. “But he did not have any activities with Hamas.”

Amani Srahnah, a representative of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, a non-governmental organization based in Ramallah that provides aid to Palestinian and Arab detainees in Israeli prisons, told CPJ there was no evidence to support the allegations against Naser.

“[Naser] is not associated with Hamas,” Srahnah told CPJ over the phone. “These are the allegations that Israeli courts cast on Palestinians, especially journalists.”

Srahnah, who is working closely with Naser’s attorney to monitor his case, said she thinks that Naser is being punished for his work as a journalist.

Naser’s YouTube channel, which hasn’t been updated in the past eight months, includes interviews with families of imprisoned Palestinians and other aspects of Palestinian life. The Najah Broadcasting Channel that Naser works for regularly reports on home demolitions, arrests of Palestinians, and the condition of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

In February 2016, Naser represented TransMedia as a guest on the Hamas-owned Al-Quds TV. He appeared on the “Morning of Freedom” program and advocated for Palestinians’ and journalists’ rights. During the show, Naser discussed his coverage of clashes between Palestinians and the Israel Defense Forces. The show’s presenter chuckled as she pointed to a segment from Naser’s coverage that showed an Israel Defense Forces soldier struggling to climb out of a pit. Naser gave more background on the incident and quoted a street saying that refers to the Israel Defense Forces as a “diapered army.”

On March 22, 2016 Naser shared a music video on his Facebook page that paid tribute to Hamas fighters who had been killed by Israeli forces. The video, which draws from Hamas propaganda footage, called on Palestinians to renew their vengeance, with the lyrics reading “oh Zionist, tomorrow will come your destruction” and “your bullets are your strength.” According to the YouTube description of the video, Naser created the photo montage which was set to lyrics written by Mahmoud ‘Eyad, a Bethlehem-based poet, and performed by Strangers for Islamic Arts, a Lebanon-based band. CPJ could not immediately determine if Strangers for Islamic Arts has links to Hamas. Naser also collaborated with ‘Eyad in a 2014 video that paid tribute to the same Hamas fighters.

Naser frequently uses his social media to advocate for Palestinian causes. Under a photo he posted of Mosab Al Khatib, a reporter with Hamas’ Al-Quds TV who, according to reports, was arrested and released the following day by the Palestinian Authority in December 2015, Naser included a caption that read, “Freedom for Mosab.”

CPJ contacted seven Hamas leaders to ask if Naser was involved in the group. One representative told CPJ the name was unfamiliar. As of May 17, 2016, the other leaders from whom CPJ had requested comment had not responded.