Beirut, July 10, 2017–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the arrest of TV journalist Ahmad Fathi al-Khatib. Palestinian intelligence officers arrested al-Khatib, a cameraman for news channel Al-Aqsa TV, from his home in Beitunia, just west of Ramallah, on July 1, according to his employer and news reports.
Al-Khatib’s attorney, Mohannad Karajah, told CPJ that Al-Khatib had been charged with collecting and receiving illegal donations. Karajah told CPJ that the charge sheet did not specify on whose behalf he allegedly collected donations, but Al-Aqsa TV is affiliated with Hamas, the main political rival of Fatah, the dominant group in the Palestinian Authority. Karajah said that Palestinian security forces had detained and charged the journalist on the same charge two years ago, but that a court had acquitted him.
“The case for which he is being investigated is the same case for which he was tried before,” Karajah told CPJ. “We have requested bail. We do not know whether the court will agree to release him, but under Palestinian law, a person cannot be tried for the same offence more than once.”
The Palestinian Authority’s Interior Ministry did not immediately answer CPJ’s phone calls or emails seeking further information.
“Absent evidence of a crime, Palestinian security forces should release Ahmad Fathi al-Khatib immediately and cease interfering with his ability to do his job.” CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said from New York.
Al-Khatib’s wife, Irsal Shrouf, told CPJ that Al-Khatib’s jailers prevented Karajah from visiting the journalist in jail on July 7, and that she was certain her husband was arrested for his work for Al-Aqsa.
According to Shrouf, Israeli forces arrested Al-Khatib at Zatara checkpoint, southern Nablus, on July 6, 2014, and placed him under administrative detention, which allowed him to be held without charge. An Israeli court extended his administrative detention three times, and Al-Khatib was released from prison only in June 2015, because his administrative detention could not be further extended. The Palestinian intelligence service, which works closely with Israeli security services, subsequently arrested him on charges of collecting and receiving money from an illegal organization, but a court in Ramallah acquitted him of that charge in September 2016.
The journalist’s re-arrest on the same charge comes amid renewed attempts by the Palestinian Authority to crack down on media affiliated with Hamas. In late June, the Palestinian Authority blocked access to at least 11 news websites suspected of being affiliated with either Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, or with Mohammad Dahlan, the exiled former head of security in the Gaza Strip who was in 2011 expelled from Fatah, according to media reports.