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Arbitrary detention of journalists continues as tensions between Hamas, Fatah increase

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal to Palestinian political leaders to put an end to a wave of arrests of journalists. At least four are currently detained in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the press freedom organisation calls for their release.

"The political struggle between Hamas and Fatah has inflicted a great deal of damage on the press in the Palestinian Territories," Reporters Without Borders said. "Many media have been closed and dozens of journalists have been arrested. In the absence of the rule of law, they have no way of defending themselves. Mahmoud Abbas and Ismael Haniyeh cannot remain silent while this goes on. It is in their own interest to ensure there is room for free speech."

Waddah Eid, an occasional contributor to the Aljazeera.net website ( http://www.aljazeera.net ), has been held in the West Bank since 17 July 2008, when he was summoned to the headquarters of the Preventive Security Service, which is run by President Abbas' Palestinian Authority. He has not been told why he is being held, but it seems he was arrested because of what he wrote for publications regarded as pro-Hamas.

Reporters Without Borders has not received any information about Farid Hamad, a correspondent of the daily "Al-Ayyam", since his arrest on 29 July at his home in Salwad, near Ramallah.

Awad Al-Rajoub, a full-time Aljazeera.net correspondent, was released on 28 August after spending a month in detention without being charged. Following pressure from Al Jazeera and organisations that defend the media, the Palestinian Supreme Court ruled that he was being held illegally.

"I spent 26 days in solitary confinement, 16 of them in appalling conditions," he said on his release. "I was not allowed to have a mattress and had to sleep on the floor (. . .). I was interrogated about my work. I think I will no longer be able to tackle the subjects I used to write about because they have become taboo, which shows how far free expression has deteriorated in the Territories."

Rajoub was arrested on 29 July at the Arab Media Centre in the West Bank city of Hebron by members of the Palestinian Authority's security forces, who seized his computer and his work papers.

Several journalists alleged to be Fatah supporters were arrested by the Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip after a car-bombing on 25 July. Two of them, Fouad Jarrada of the state-owned Palestine Broadcasting Corporation and Amro Farra, a reporter for the state news agency, are still being held.

Imad Eid, the head of the Maan news agency and a correspondent for the Lebanese TV station Al-Manar, was briefly detained on 29 July after writing a dispatch about a Hamas decision to close Fatah-owned premises.

The armed wing of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority's security services in the West Bank were included in 2008 for the first time in the Reporters Without Borders list of "Predators of Press Freedom," which is updated every May.

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