Soldiers guard an Israeli border crossing in the town of Metulla on December 4, 2018. A photojournalist living in East Jerusalem is currently sentenced to deportation to Jordan, a country he has no ties to. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
Soldiers guard an Israeli border crossing in the town of Metulla on December 4, 2018. A photojournalist living in East Jerusalem is currently sentenced to deportation to Jordan, a country he has no ties to. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Photographer detained, sentenced to deportation by Israeli authorities

Beirut, March 8, 2019–The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed concern about the prolonged detention of Mustafa al-Kharouf, a photographer for the Turkish state-owned Anadolu Agency, and called for Israeli authorities to either clarify the reasons for his detention and deportation order or release him immediately.

Israeli police forces arrested al-Kharouf at his home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz on January 22 and transferred him to Givon Prison in Ramle, where asylum seekers facing deportation are usually held, according to his employer and other news reports.

On February 24, an Israeli appeals court upheld the Interior Ministry’s January decision that al-Kharouf be denied family reunification in Jerusalem and deported to Jordan on security grounds, according to his lawyer, Adi Lustigman, who spoke with CPJ. He remains in detention in Givon Prison pending an appeal, according to the regional press freedom group Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom.

The arrest came one day after al-Kharouf appealed the Israeli Interior Ministry’s decision to reject his request to legalize his status in East Jerusalem, according to al-Kharouf’s employer and Skeyes. According to his employer, al-Kharouf had applied to legalize his status through a family reunification application tied to his wife, who has legal status in East Jerusalem.

Lustigman told CPJ that the Interior Ministry attributed al-Kharouf’s arrest to his illegal residency status, but it rejected his family reunification request on the grounds that al-Kharouf posed a security threat, an accusation that Lustigman disputes.

“Even as his lawyer, I am not allowed access to the information on which the Interior Ministry has based its refusal to grant him family reunification, because that is the way the legal system works with regard to security cases,” Lustigman told CPJ. “However, our impression from the questioning at his hearing is that the Israelis are basing their decision on his work as a photographer.”

Questioning during al-Kharouf’s family reunification hearing focused on a photo he had taken and posted to his Facebook page depicting graffiti critical of Israel, according to Lustigman.

Al-Kharouf was born in Algeria to a Palestinian father and an Algerian mother and has lived in East Jerusalem for 20 years, since he was 12 years old; he has no immediate familial ties to Jordan and is not a citizen of any country, according to his lawyer and news reports.

“We are concerned about photographer Mustafa al-Kharouf’s detention and Israel’s threat to deport him to Jordan, a country to which he has no ties,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Israeli authorities should publicly detail the basis for his detention, or release him and let him work freely.”

News reports and Skeyes said that the Interior Ministry and the Israeli domestic security service, Shin Bet, claimed that al-Kharouf is a member of Hamas and is in contact with Hamas activists.

At the hearing, Al-Kharouf denied being a member of Hamas, saying “I do not belong to any side. I am a journalist,” according to independent left-wing Palestinian online publication +972, which attended the hearing.

Turgut Alp Boyraz, a reporter for Anadolu Agency’s Jerusalem Bureau, also spoke at the hearing, calling the case “an attack on freedom of the press in Israel,” according to +972. CPJ tried to contact Anadolu Agency via phone and email but did not receive responses to inquiries regarding Al-Kharouf’s case.

Al-Kharouf began working as a photographer for Anadolu Agency in Jerusalem in August 2018, according to his employer. Previously, he worked as a freelance photojournalist and covered protests and clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces in Jerusalem’s Old City, according to his employer and +972.

The Israeli Interior Ministry did not reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

Lustigman told CPJ that the court is expected to announce the date for Al-Kharouf’s next appeal hearing on March 10.