Palestinian police patrol a demonstration in Al-Bireh in the Israeli-occupied West Bank as pictured on August 9, 2020. Police raided Al-Bireh based news agency J-Media Network. (Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)

Palestinian police close the office of J-Media Network news agency near Ramallah

New York, July 29, 2021 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the closure by the Palestinian police of the office of the J-Media Network news agency in Ramallah and called on Palestinian authorities to allow J-Media staff to return to the office and report the news freely and without fear of reprisal.

On the evening of July 27, Palestinian police officers acting on the orders of the Ramallah public prosecutor’s office raided and closed the office of J-Media in Al-Bireh, a city adjacent to Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and banned its 17 employees from entering the office or removing any personal belongings or journalistic equipment from it, according to news reports and a video on J-Media’s website of a press conference held yesterday by the outlet’s director Alaa al-Rimawi and his lawyer Mohannad Karajah.

J-Media provides footage and media services to several broadcasters and covers Palestinian news, according to the regional press freedom group SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom and CPJ’s review of its website.

Al-Rimawi told SKeyes that police told him that the office was closed due to a complaint from the information ministry over J-Media’s alleged failure to obtain a license to operate, an allegation he denied during the press conference.

As of today, J-Media’s office remains closed, according to a post on its Facebook page; the outlet has continued to publish news on Facebook and on its website, according to CPJ’s review.

The closure follows several incidents in recent months when both Palestinian and Israeli forces attacked journalists covering protests, as CPJ documented.

“With the closure of J-Media’s offices and the Palestinian police’s recent attacks on Palestinian journalists covering protests, it seems Palestinian authorities in the West Bank are taking turns with Israel to crack down on press freedom,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Palestinian authorities must allow J-Media staff to go back to their office and allow Palestinian journalists to report the news without fear.”

Al-Rimawi told SKeyes that police ordered him to go to the public prosecutor’s office yesterday, but when he went there, he said he was told that he was summoned by mistake and should go to the information ministry. He told Skeyes that at the information ministry he inquired about any missing paperwork for the outlet’s license.

“I went to the Ministry of Information to find out what documents were required, bearing in mind that we have been licensed with the ministry for years and that it would have been more appropriate for the ministry to contact us if it wanted us to renew or update our license rather than to send security forces to close the office,” al-Rimawi told SKeyes.

CPJ was unable to determine what the information ministry asked of al-Rimawi, as the ministry did not respond to an emailed request for comment. The public prosecutor’s office and the Palestinian police also did not respond to emails from CPJ, nor did al-Rimawi or Karajah, whom CPJ contacted via messaging app.

Al-Rimawi, who also works as a reporter for the Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera Mubasher, was arrested and held for three days in early July following a complaint against him by the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments for delivering a speech without permission at a mosque during the funeral of Palestinian opposition activist Nizar Banat, who died in the custody of Palestinian security forces, according to news reports.

Al-Rimawi was arrested by Israeli military forces in Ramallah in April, as CPJ documented. He was released in early June, according to news reports.