Beirut, January 23, 2019--The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the arrest of Palestinian journalist Yousef al-Faqeeh, a reporter for the London-based Quds Press News Agency, and called on the Palestinian Authority to release him immediately.
On January 16, officers from the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Preventive Security forces raided al-Faqeeh's house in the village of al-Burj, near the southern West Bank city of Dura, and arrested him without stating the reason for his arrest, according to news reports, his employer, the regional press freedom group Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, and the local press freedom group Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA).
"With the third arrest in four weeks in the West Bank, one wonders whether the Palestinian Authority made a New Year's resolution to arrest local journalists," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour, from Washington, D.C. "We call on the Palestinian authorities to immediately release Yousef al-Faqeeh and stop harassing the press."
Al-Faqeeh's wife, Suhad, told Skeyes that Preventive Security officers raided the house and, when Yousef asked whether they had a search or arrest warrant, they proceeded to arrest him.
"They took him to an unknown destination and didn't mention the reason for his arrest," she told Skeyes.
The security officers seized al-Faqeeh's computer and cell phone during the raid, according to his brother Noh who was cited in news reports.
"He has been accused with inciting sectarian strife under the cybercrime law and was interrogated about articles he has posted and posts he has written on his Facebook account," Firas Karajeh, al-Faqeeh's attorney and a lawyer with MADA, told CPJ.
Karajeh did not specify which articles and posts al-Faqeeh was asked about. A CPJ review of his recent publications found that on December 9, 2018, al-Faqeeh published an article in the Palestinian cultural magazine Ishraqat, which he also posted to his Facebook feed, calling on the Palestinian Authority to sever ties with Israel and allow for civil disobedience demonstrations throughout the West Bank against the occupation of the territory.
On January 20, a Magistrate Court judge extended al-Faqeeh's detention until January 27, denying a request by the local prosecutor to hold him until February 4. Under Article 24 of the Palestinian cybercrime law, inciting sectarian strife online can be punished with hard labor and fines of up to 10,000 Jordanian dinars ($14,000).
CPJ reported that al-Faqeeh's colleague at the Quds Press News Agency, Zaid Abu Ara, and Motasem Saqf al-Hit, a photographer for the Hamas-affiliated Quds News Network, were both arrested in the West Bank in December 2018. Al-Hit was released on January 6 and Abu Ara was released on bail on January 18, according to MADA.