Hamas arrests more journalists in Gaza

Palestinian sources confirmed on Sunday that Hamas-controlled police in Gaza arrested three journalists working for local news websites. MENASSAT met with the only freed journalist, Ibrahim Qanan, along with the families of the others.
Ibrahim Qana said Hamas police only asked him about his work as a journalist and about money being distributed by Fatah. © Olfat Haddad

GAZA, October 14, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Sources in Gaza confirmed on Sunday that Hamas-aligned police broke into the houses of local journalists Ibrahim Qanan, Yousif Fayad and Akram Al-Lawh in Gaza and Deir Al-Balah cities, and arrested them for "security reasons."

There has been no confirmation as to where the journalists were taken, but MENASSAT did confirm media statements from the office of the Hamas interior ministry that it stands by the arrests.

Critics see the arrests as purely political and a means of silencing critics of the Hamas government that assumed power of the Gaza Strip during a violent takeover in June 2007.

Ihab Ghosein, spokesperson for the interior ministry told MENASSAT, "The arrest of journalists two days ago is purely security-related and has nothing to do with media work. Their names appeared in some cases. They are currently being interrogated regarding these cases, and they will be released immediately if they are proven innocent."

Ghosein refused to address the nature of charges against these journalists, but he said, "When the investigations are over, it will be announced officially. Right now, we'll leave the investigation to take its course".

One of those arrested, Ibrahim Qanan, was later released. Qanan works as a reporter for Ma'an TV station in Gaza. The Internal Security forces brought him in on Sunday to police headquarters in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza strip.

He said, "I headed there after an official order was delivered to my house. The interrogation lasted three hours."

He added, "The interrogation did not focus on something specifically. I was asked about my work as a reporter for Ma'an TV, about the Fatah movement, and about money being distributed by Fatah in Khan Younis, as well as about my former job at Voice of Youth, a Fatah radio station that was closed down when Hamas took over Gaza strip."


Qanan said he was not tortured or pressured in anyway by investigators or Hamas police. But he considered the practice of bringing in journalists a black spot on the Palestinian people's history in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank.

He and many other journalists working in the Strip said that they were appalled by Hamas' intimidation of the press corps.

"No one whatsoever has the right to bring in journalists and question them simply because of their work. Under any circumstances, it is illegal and unacceptable to interrogate and arrest journalists based on their work," Qanan said. 

The TV reporter expressed hope that the trend of arresting journalists has to come to an end, calling on security forces everywhere to understand the crucial role of media and journalists, and work to facilitate their mission instead of arresting them.

Qanan said he was released on the same day he was arrested.

MENASSAT met with Ashraf Fayyad, the brother of journalist Yousif Fayyad, who was arrested on Sunday from his house in Deir Al-Balah. Yousif works for the new Al-Hayat newspaper published from Ramallah.

He said, "Around 1 a.m., a force from the Hamas-loyal Internal Security Forces broke into our house, searched it, and arrested journalist Yousif Fayyad and confiscated his computer along with CD's and work-related documents. They also confiscated my own computer."

Previously, Fayyad said Hamas had shut down the Al-Hadath media office in Deir Al-Balah, for no reason. The office was owned by Ashraf Fayyad.

Fayyad said his brother Yousif was an independent journalist who works for Al-Hayat and Al-Jadida newspaper and for international news agencies. "His arrest has nothing to do with real reasons other than his journalism work."

Ashraf said his brother is in Saraya prison in Gaza right now. "We don't know anything other than this now."

Palestinian rights groups have tried to bring a lawyer into the prison, but officials there have refused to let in the lawyer until today according to sources close to the Fayyad family.

"Hamas talks about freedom of press, but they clearly adopt a policy of silencing free voices and targeting journalists," Ashraf Fayyad said.

The mother of arrested journalist Akram Al-Lawh told MENASSAT that the Hamas-backed security forces stormed her house in Deir Al-Balah and took her son off to Saraya prison.  

"My son was arrested because he belongs to Fatah politically. It's not because he's done anything wrong," Al-Lawh's mother said.

She told MENASSAT that the arrest was an insult to the family, adding, "If there was a need to question him, they could have sent legal requests to the house and Akram would have gone anywhere they wanted him to. There was no need for the way they arrested my son. We were not going to hide him, especially since the whole of Gaza strip is under their control."

Security arrests

Interior ministry spokesperson Ihab Ghosein said that Hamas was putting restrictions on journalists during security campaigns in various parts of Gaza because, "We have to enforce a complete security blockade to preserve everyone's lives."

"We did not deny journalists any information about the security campaigns we carried out. We only kept photographers away from the scene –– a customary practice all over the world. Other than this, all information was made available for the journalists," Ghosein said in response to allegations that there had been a media blackout on information regarding the arrests.

Khalil Abu Shammala, head of the Gaza-based human rights organization Damir said, "We don't have any details about this case, but we managed to obtain some information from the detainees' parents indicating that the arrests happened on grounds of political opinion."

Commenting on the Interior Ministry's claims that the arrests were made on security grounds, Abu Shammala said, "If this is the case, the arrests should have happened by order of the General Prosecutor, which according to the parents was not the case."

Abu Shammala added that when the government claims the arrests are for security reasons, they are bound by law to include the reasons. This was not the case according to Shammala.

Dima has also accused the Hamas-backed security forces for denying the detainees access to a lawyer within a 24-hour period after their arrests. 

Abu Shamalla said, "There have been continuous attacks on the media from both sides of the Palestinian political divide. These recent months of arrests stem from the political conflict, and they do not help prepare the grounds for dialogue."

Dima pointed out that political arrests are illegal according to a 1999 Supreme Justice court decision in the West Bank, and are also banned by Palestinian law.