New York, April 2, 2020 — Hamas-affiliated authorities should stop their campaign of harassment against Palestinian cartoonist Ismael el-Bozom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On March 20, officers in the Hamas-controlled General Investigation Unit arrested el-Bozom, a Palestinian cartoonist who publishes his political drawings on Facebook, where he has more than 6,700 followers, at his home in the refugee camp of Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip, according to news reports, a Facebook post by el-Bozom, and a report by the Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, a regional press freedom group. Authorities released him after two days, according to those reports.
On March 26, officers arrested him again, according to news reports. He was released without charge on March 29 under measures to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus, according to Skeyes.
In both cases, his arrest was sparked by cartoons and writings critical of Hamas, according to those news reports.
“Hamas authorities in Gaza have again demonstrated a thin skin for criticism and little tolerance for press freedom,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Security forces should immediately stop harassing Ismael el-Bozom and ensure that cartoonists and journalists can do their jobs freely, regardless of their political stances.”
During the March 20 arrest, General Investigation Unit officers “told me that I was under arrest because of a complaint filed by the Attorney General in Gaza and began to interrogate me about the drawings and writings critical of Hamas,” el-Bozom told Skeyes.
One of the interrogators spat on his face and beat him all over his body, he told the press freedom group. He was released on March 22 after signing a pledge that he would return to authorities when summoned, according to that report.
On March 23, el-Bozom posted on Facebook that the attorney general’s office had denied having issued an arrest warrant against him, and wrote that he would file a complaint with the attorney general to investigate whether he had been detained illegally.
On March 26, General Investigation Unit officers arrested el-Bozom again and took him to a prison in Jabalia run by the unit, held him for three days without interrogating him, and then released him, according to Skeyes.
On the days prior to his first arrest, el-Bozom posted several posts and cartoons calling for the release of the writer Abdullah Abu Sharkh, who was arrested by Hamas security forces on March 13 over a Facebook post critical of Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades. He also posted cartoons and posts critical of the mayor of Nuseirat, a Hamas member.
The Interior Ministry in Gaza did not immediately reply to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via email and social media.