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A member of the Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas is seen in the southern Gaza Strip on June 23, 2019. Journalist Yasser Abu Athara was recently assaulted by security forces while covering a protest related to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

Gaza police assault journalist Yasser Abu Athara while covering COVID-19 protest

March 20, 2020 1:05 PM ET

On March 15, 2020, Hamas-controlled security forces in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah assaulted Yasser Abu Athara, a camera operator for the Kan’an News Agency news website, while he was covering a protest against local authorities’ decision to turn two schools into quarantine centers for people infected with COVID-19, according to news reports, a report from the journalist’s employer, and statements from the regional press freedom organizations MADA and the Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom.

Abu Athar told MADA that he was using his cell phone to interview protesters and take footage of the demonstration when riot police officers chased protesters away and approached where he was filming.

A man in plainclothes tried to grab his phone and began insulting him, and then five police officers came to the scene and punched and hit Abu Athar, even after he identified himself as a journalist, according to the MADA report. The officers seized his cell phone and gave it to the person in plainclothes, and then left him at the scene, according to that report.

According to his employer, Abu Athara sustained bruises all over his body, particularly in his chest. His cell phone was not returned, according to that report.

Abu Athara told Skeyes that he called the police chief in the city of Rafah to inquire about his phone, and was told that it was in the possession of the Mabahith. The Mabahith, also known as the General Investigation Police Unit, reports to the Interior Ministry and is usually responsible for criminal investigations, according to its website.

The Interior Ministry in Gaza did not immediately reply to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via email and social media.

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