Beirut, August 10, 2017--Palestinian security forces should immediately release five journalists arrested in the West Bank yesterday and should cease arresting journalists on spurious charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Palestinian Authority security forces arrested the five journalists in raids of their homes in several cities across the West Bank, originally on allegations of "leaking sensitive information to hostile parties," according to news reports, the journalists' employers, and the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate. The Reconciliation Court in Ramallah today extended their detention for periods ranging from 5-15 days on charges of "endangering public safety," news reports said. All of the journalists arrested work for media outlets affiliated with Hamas, the main rival of the Fatah movement that controls the Palestinian Authority.
"Palestinian security forces in the West Bank should immediately release the five journalists they arrested yesterday and stop punishing reporters for the dispute between Palestinian factions," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C.
Plainclothes officers from the Palestinian General Intelligence Service (GIS) arrested Mahmoud Hamamreh, reporter for the Hamas-affiliated broadcaster Al-Quds TV, at his photography studio in Housan, a village west of Bethlehem, the evening of August 8, news reports said. In a statement to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), Moy'ad Hamamreh, Mahmoud Hamamreh's brother, said that the officers asked his brother to accompany them without producing any official document or arrest warrant, then took him to a GIS office in Bethlehem.
Palestinian Authority intelligence agents also arrested Shehab News reporter Amer Abu Arafa. Safa al-Huroub, Abu Arafa's wife, told MADA that 10 GIS officers wearing military uniforms stormed their house in Hebron around 10 p.m. on August 8 and demanded all of her husband's electronic devices, including his laptop and mobile phone, before arresting him. Shehab News is also affiliated Hamas.
Palestinian intelligence officers also arrested Qoteiba Qasm, a reporter for Al-Quds TV and a blogger for the Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera, in Bethlehem's Wadi Shaheen neighborhood after surrounding his house and urged him to hand himself over, news reports said.
Journalists working in the West Bank have long been subject to pressure from both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, and several of the journalists have been arrested before. Israeli security forces detained Abu Arafa without charge for two years before releasing him in August 2013, according to news reports. Qasm had previously served a 25-month prison sentence at an Israeli prison in the Negev Desert and was released in December 2016, according to news reports. Palestinian intelligence officers had arrested Abou Zeid in May 2016 on allegations of "spreading false news" and "tarnishing the image" of the Palestinian Authority, releasing him 36 days later, news reports said. In February 2010 a Palestinian military court sentenced the journalist to 18 months in prison on charges of "undermining the status" of the Palestinian Authority and resisting the public policy of the Palestinian Authority, CPJ reported at the time.
Yesterday's arrests come amid an escalating crackdown on the media in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers on July 29 raided the Ramallah office of the PalMedia production company, which provides broadcast services to Al-Quds TV and other news channels, confiscating equipment and hard drives, according to media reports. On July 13, Israeli soldiers raided Al-Quds TV's Hebron office and confiscated computers and hard drives, according to news reports. On July 1, Palestinian intelligence officers arrested Ahmad Fathi al-Khatib, a cameraman for the news channel Al-Aqsa TV, from his home in Beitunia, just west of Ramallah, CPJ reported at the time. Al-Aqsa TV is also affiliated with Hamas.