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Hamas imposes restrictions on journalists in Gaza Strip; authorities make arrests in West Bank

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has strongly protested against new restrictions imposed by Hamas on journalists in the Gaza Strip and the arrest of two journalists working for Hamas-run television by security forces controlled by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

On 5 November 2007, the Palestinian preventive security service arrested journalist Alaa al-Titi and cameraman Ossayd Amarneh of al-Aqsa TV in the south of the West Bank after they met family members of a Hamas deputy arrested by the Israeli army at the beginning of the same week. They are being held at al-Khalil.

"The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, under the control of the Fatah party of President Mahmud Abbas, condemns abuses by Hamas but has no scruples about putting journalists in prison, apparently for no reason, except for working for a media linked to the Islamist party. We condemn the fact that Palestinian journalists are among the main victims of this clash between two factions," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

Hamas spokesman Tahar Al-Nunu said on 31 October that no journalist can continue working without obtaining a new press card from the information ministry. Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip on 14 June, six months after its legislative election victory. Since then the Islamist party has regularly obstructed the work of some journalists. Media viewed as close to Fatah have suffered attacks. Arrests and closures of media have become the daily lot of journalists not aligned with Hamas.

"Since dissolving the journalists' union last month, Hamas is now trying to impose official measures which could lead to serious restrictions," Reporters Without Borders said (see IFEX alerts of 7 and 6 September 2007). "A press card is above all a tool which should facilitate media work and the coverage of official events. The Hamas decision however appears to have been prompted by political considerations".

Since June, the press freedom organisation has recorded at least nine assaults and 21 arrests of journalists by members of Hamas' armed wing, the Executive Force.

The Hamas announcement of a ban on journalists who are not accredited by the information ministry, under the control of the Islamist party, prompted a wave of protest within media and professional organisations on the Gaza Strip. Many of them refused to comply with the order and only Hamas-affiliated media have accepted it.

On 6 November, the Hamas police searched the home of Hisham Saqalah, of the online newsletter "al-Rassed al-I'lami" seizing his computer, his archives, mobile phone and scores of CDs. The journalist had been warned that a complaint had been made against him but not the identity of the plaintiff or their motives.

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