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After Israeli soldiers intercept Gaza flotilla, concern for many journalists aboard

(IPI/IFEX) - 31 May 2010 - After Israeli commandos boarded aid ships bound for Gaza on Monday and at least 10 pro-Palestinian activists on board were killed, concern mounted as well over the well-being and whereabouts of dozens of journalists reportedly on board. Many have been out of contact since the raid, with reports that some may be detained in the Israeli port of Ashdod. As the raid unfolded, journalists on board reported the jamming of electronic devices.

In a statement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the Israeli soldiers were attacked "with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs." The statement added: "Additionally one of the weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose. As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire."

The Free Gaza Movement, which had two boats in the "Freedom Flotilla", offered a different account: "Under darkness of night, Israeli commandoes dropped from a helicopter onto the Turkish passenger ship, Mavi Marmara, and began to shoot the moment their feet hit the deck. They fired directly into the crowd of civilians asleep."

Peter Kerr, executive editor of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper – which had two journalists, reporter Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty on board – told IPI that the two had been transported to a detention facility in the Israeli port of Ashdod.

He added that he had had no contact with the two since the incident. "It is unclear whether we will be able to talk to them before they have to make a decision between 'free passage deportation' or further detention and trial. We want to talk to them before that decision."

The two journalists had, Kerr said, done nothing wrong: "We maintain that they are bona fide journalists with proper accreditation and have a right to report."

The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network, meanwhile, has lost contact with seven of its journalists on board the flotilla boats. Al-Jazeera English managing editor Ibrahim Helal said that, together, Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera English had seven reporters, in three teams, on board the boats. He said "We put all responsibility on the Israeli government's shoulders for their safety . . . Al Jazeera Network also calls upon all media organizations to act for the release of all journalists on board the ships and to ask for their freedom to practice their profession without pressure and harassment."

IPI Director David Dadge said: "The priority for the International Press Institute is the safety of those journalists on board the flotilla of ships, but I also hope that there has been no interference in their ability to report on this ongoing news story. Given the controversy surrounding this incident, a free and independent media is probably the best possible safeguard for ensuring that the truth reaches the outside world."

According to IPI research at the time of this writing, journalists from the following news organizations were on board the flotilla:

Al Jazeera (Qatar)
1. Abbas Nasser
2. Othman Battiri
3. Mohammed Vall
4. Ali Sabri
5. Andre Khalil
6. Jamal al Shayal
7. Issam Zaatar
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
8. Paul McGeough
9. Kate Geraghty

bTV (Bulgaria)
10. Svetoslav Ivanov
11. Valentin Vasilev

TVOne (Indonesia)
12. M. Yassin

South Africa Radio 786 (South Africa)
13. Gadijah Davids

Astro Awani (Malaysia)
14. Ashwad Ismail,
15. Shamsul Kamal Latip

Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
16. Abbas Al Lawati

Telesur (Spain)
17. David Segarra

Aaj TV (Pakistan)
18. Syed Talat Hussain
19. Raza Mahmood Agha

Other Journalists
20. Hassan Ghani (Scotland)

The International Press Institute, a global network of editors, publishers and leading journalists dedicated to the furtherance and defence of press freedom around the world, calls on the Israeli government to:

• Allow the reporters to contact their news organizations as soon as possible.
• Ensure the prompt release of the reporters, who were on the ships in a professional capacity, and allow them to work freely.
• Refrain from confiscating journalists' equipment, footage or notes.
• Release as soon as possible information on the well being of all journalists on the ships, along with other passengers.

Case history

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