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Security officials keep watch during a protest in Ramallah on June 14, 2018. Journalists covering unrest in the West Bank say Palestinian Authority forces attacked and harassed them. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian security forces assault journalists at West Bank protest

June 15, 2018 4:22 PM ET

New York, June 15, 2018--The Palestinian Authority should investigate claims that its security forces assaulted and harassed journalists covering a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Security forces assaulted at least five journalists and confiscated equipment during the unrest on June 13, according to news reports and the local press freedom organization, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA). At least one journalist was briefly detained.

The journalists were covering a protest over economic sanctions the Palestinian Authority imposed on Gaza, which is controlled by its rival, Hamas, according to Reuters. President Mahmoud Abbas banned protests over the sanctions earlier that day, according to reports.

"This is not the first time that security forces have used violence and intimidation to prevent coverage of protests that the authorities may dislike," said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. "The Palestinian Authority must deal firmly with all those who assault journalists to send a clear message that it is committed to press freedom."

Seth Herald, an American freelance photojournalist who was covering the unrest for the independent Israeli news magazine +972, told CPJ that a police officer ordered him to stop taking photos of an injured protester and tried to grab his camera. The journalist said several plainclothes officers beat him with batons and their fists, kicked him, and one of them twisted his arm and grabbed his camera. Herald said he was dragged to a police van, where he was detained for about an hour, before being taken to a military barracks where he was held for two hours.

Herald told CPJ that when he was taken to the barracks a man identified only to him as "the major general" asked if he was hurt and released him without charge, but said he would receive a call the following day from the U.S. consulate. The journalist said his camera was returned but the images were deleted

In an article for +972, a journalist named Rami Younis wrote that a Palestinian Authority police officer kicked him and confiscated his phone, along with those of several other people who were also filming the protest. Younis did not immediately respond to an email from CPJ.

Video footage that the Hamas-affiliated Quds News Network shared on its Twitter feed showed a security officer attempting to seize the phone of a reporter, who is not identified in the video, and telling the reporter to "get out of here." When the reporter identifies himself as a journalist, the officer responds, "Go be a journalist in your home, not here."

Officers tried to blindfold Heba Erakat, a reporter for the independent news website Shasha News, bound her hands, and then beat and kicked her while she was on the ground, according to her employer and MADA. Security forces beat Naela Khalil, the bureau chief for the Qatar-affiliated website The New Arab in the West Bank, according to MADA and a post on her Facebook page. The journalist said she was also affected by tear gas.

MADA reported that Jihan Awad, a reporter for Palestine Today, and Ahmed Youssef, a correspondent for the website Ultra Palestine, were assaulted and that officers confiscated Awad's phone. MADA did not provide further details of the assaults.

The Palestinian Authority Security Forces did not immediately respond to CPJ's request for comment sent via its website.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The text has been modified in the fourth and fifth paragraph to clarify Herald's account of being beaten and detained.

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