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Cameraman arrested in Bethlehem; editor released

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the continuing press censorship in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which has not spared the Palestinian broadcast media, and calls for the release of Ossayd Amarneh, a cameraman employed by Al-Aqsa TV, the mouthpiece of the Islamic party Hamas, who was arrested in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on 21 September 2008.

It is the fourth time Amarneh has been arrested in the past 12 months. The Palestinian Authority security services constantly harass Al-Aqsa journalists in order to rein in Hamas's propaganda and as a response to the activities of the state-owned Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), now under President Mahmoud Abbas's direct control, being brought to a complete halt in the Gaza Strip since Hamas seized power there last June.

Amarneh's arrest comes two days after Mostapha Sabri, editor of the Hamas-affiliated newspaper "Falastin", was released by the Palestinian Authority's intelligence services. Arrested at his home on 31 July, Sabri remained in detention despite a Supreme Court ruling calling for his release. No charges were brought against him.

"The Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip has been marked by a wave of journalists' arrests - most of them affiliated with President Abbas's party, Fatah - and seizures of newspapers," Reporters Without Borders said. "A year later, it is clear that the news media still operating in Gaza have resigned themselves to self-censorship. Only journalists working for western media enjoy somewhat greater freedom."

The press freedom organisation added: "Meanwhile journalists suspected of working for Hamas or Hamas media have been increasingly harassed in recent months in the West Bank. There has been one arbitrary arrest after another, to the detriment of civil liberties and the judicial system, which is being ignored by the political authorities and their security agencies."

Amarneh, 23, was arrested arbitrarily on 21September after responding to a summons from intelligence officials in Bethlehem. His mother told Reporters Without Borders he has not been allowed any visits by his family or his lawyer. She said she did not understand why her son was being persecuted, claiming that he stopped working for Al-Aqsa several months ago.

Amarneh was arrested once before in November 2007 after filming an interview with the family of a Hamas parliamentarian held by the Israeli authorities. A court acquitted him of "attacking national unity" in April.

Al-Aqsa administrative chief Mohammed Soraya said the station's problems date back to before the Hamas takeover in the Gaza Strip. "The Palestinian Authority regards Al-Aqsa as a terrorist news media and all our installations in Ramallah, Jenin and Tulkarem have been closed down," he said. "Nowadays, our employees can no longer film in the West Bank and we are forced to use news agencies as intermediaries." Created in late 2005, Al-Aqsa employs about 300 people.

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