Beirut, March 19, 2019--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the detention of at least three Gazan journalists and called on authorities in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to release them immediately.
Hamas security forces have detained at least three journalists in the Gaza Strip since March 14 as part of a crackdown on protests against the high cost of living, according to the Palestinian press freedom organization MADA, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, news reports, the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate, and Facebook posts from relatives and colleagues of the detained journalists.
Hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets across the Gaza Strip on March 14 to protest the high cost of living and the dire economic situation in Gaza under the slogan "We want to live," according to news reports. The protests, which were organized by a group of young people in Gaza, were violently crushed by Hamas security forces, which assaulted and detained several journalists covering them, according to news reports and MADA.
"This frightening treatment of journalists shows Hamas' utter disdain for press freedom in territory under its control," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. "We call on the Hamas authorities in Gaza to immediately release all imprisoned journalists and stop their campaign to intimidate the media."
Amer Balusha, a reporter for, among others, the independent Egyptian newspaper Al-Badeel and the independent online publication Al-Monitor and a civil rights activist, was detained at the house of a friend in northern Gaza City in the afternoon of March 16, according to MADA and Facebook posts by his brother Ahmed Balusha and his sister Nour Balusha.
Nour Balusha told CPJ that Amer Balusha was detained on March 16 for unknown reasons and that his family did not know his whereabouts until March 18, when they became aware of rumors on Facebook that he was at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
"We call to inquire about him, but they told us we were not allowed to see him. One of my brothers went to hospital and Hamas threatened him and asked him to go away. We have heard that he is in intensive care. Hamas denies that he is in their custody and that's what worries us, because it means they will not take responsibility for whatever will happen to him," she said.
Today, Nour told CPJ that her brother had been able to call their mother earlier today and told her that he had been taken to the hospital and then back to prison, and that he had been severely beaten. She also told CPJ that her brother had been informed that he would be brought before a military court. She said they had not been informed of what charges he faced, or when he would appear in court.
Osama Abu Sakran and Amjad Riyad Hilles, journalism students at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, were summoned by Hamas' internal security forces on March 16 for questioning about their coverage of protests in Shuja'iyya neighborhood, east of Gaza City, at the Ansar Kasr al-Hakim station and have been held without charge since then, according to MADA, the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate, news reports, and Facebook posts by relatives. They had posted coverage on Facebook of detentions of journalists and events in the Shujai'yya area, including raids and the arrest of young people.
CPJ is also investigating several other reports of journalists detained and assaulted.
According to MADA, journalist Sami Yousuf Ibrahim Issa, editor of the news agency Al-Hadaf, on March 14 was punched and kicked by 10 masked men who asked him to delete the pictures he had taken. When he refused, they resumed the beating and forcefully seized his cell phone. The Times of Israel reported on March 17 that at least seven journalists were severely beaten for covering the protests that day.
In an email in response to CPJ's request for comment, the Hamas Information Office denied that Hamas was responsible for the detention of journalists and protesters. "It is the ministry of interior that is entitled to impose security in the Gaza Strip. Hamas did its best to release all the journalists and even rioters. Hamas will forward your inquiry to the ministry of interior as to whether any journalist is being detained by local authorities and why," the Hamas Information Office stated.
The Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip--which is controlled by Hamas--did not immediately reply to CPJ's requests for comment sent via social media and email.
Following the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and the ensuing imposition of international sanctions on the Palestinians, Fatah and Hamas failed to reach a power-sharing agreement and tension between them escalated until Hamas took over Gaza in March 2007, leaving Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah in control of the West Bank.
In early January, CPJ reported that unknown assailants ransacked the Fatah-funded Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation in Gaza. Later that month, CPJ documented that Hamas forces detained and allegedly assaulted the director of the Gaza branch of the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate.