Palestinian policemen in Gaza are pictured on April 23, 2020. Security forces in the territory held two journalists for 48 hours. (Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

Hamas security forces hold 2 journalists in Gaza for 48 hours for allegedly spreading false news

On July 16, 2020, security forces in Gaza summoned journalists Muthanna al-Najjar, a reporter for the Saudi-funded broadcaster Al-Hadath and the local Al-Quds Radio, and freelance journalist Tareq abu Ishaq, who contributes to the news website 4Media, to the local Attorney General’s office for questioning over a complaint by the local Education Ministry, according to news reports, the regional press freedom group SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, and MADA, the Palestine Center for Development and Media Freedom.

The complaint alleged that the two journalists had both posted a video of a Gazan high school student — Al-Najjar on his personal Facebook account, which counts 9,000 followers, and Abu Ishaq on the Facebook account of 4Media, which counts more than 56,000 followers — without seeking prior approval from the ministry, according to the same sources. The same sources said that they were released on a bail of 1,000 NIS (US$290) and required to return to the Attorney General’s office on July 19.

When Al-Najjar and Abu Ishaq returned to the Attorney General’s office on July 19, they were detained for 48 hours, the same sources said. Al-Najjar’s brother, Muhannad al-Najjar Shaqeeq, told MADA that his brother and Abu Ishaq were neither questioned nor formally charged that day. On July 21, the Attorney General’s office extended Al-Najjar and Abu Ishaq’s detention for 15 days and they were taken to a court in Khan Younis, but they were released hours later, according to news reports and Facebook posts by Al-Najjar.

The video, which was first published by Abu Ishaq on 4Media’s Facebook account on July 14, was widely circulated on social media and news websites. It is unclear if Abu Ishaq filmed the video, which depicts high school student Asmaa Mahmoud al-Najjar and her father claiming that the student did not receive her diploma like the rest of her peers did, that she was unable to locate it when she went to the school, and that there had been a mistake in the result of her high school exams, according to CPJ’s review of the video.

On the day of the video’s publication, the Palestinian Education Ministry issued a statement on its official Facebook account refuting the student’s claims and saying that she had failed four subjects and that unspecified legal measures would be taken against her and her father.

After the Education Ministry posted its statement, Al-Najjar and Abu Ishaq deleted the video of the student and her father from the Facebook accounts and posted the statement on the Facebook pages, according to the sources, but they were called in for questioning anyway.

On July 15, the Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip banned the Saudi-funded news channels Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath from working in Gaza, and banned local journalists from appearing on their broadcasts, as CPJ documented.