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Hamas government reinforces control over Gaza Strip media through new accreditation system

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is concerned about a new system of accreditation that Ismael Haniyeh's government has announced for all telecommunications companies, Internet service providers, broadcast media and news agencies based in the Gaza Strip, which has been controlled by the Islamist party Hamas since June 2007.

The press freedom organisation also calls for the release of three journalists who have been held without explanation since 12 October 2008 in the Gaza Strip town of Deir Al-Balah.

Yusef Al-Mansi, the Hamas government's minister of communication and information technology, told Reporters Without Borders that the aim of his directive, issued on 13 October, was "simply to regulate the work of the media in accordance with the law in effect since 1996."

"This decision seems above all to be motivated by Hamas' desire to control the press," Reporters Without Borders said. "The Islamist party is trying to give itself the tools that allow it to legally ban news media that show too much support for the Palestinian Authority.

"After closing the state-owned Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, banning distribution of the pro-Fatah newspapers 'Al-Hayat Al-Jadida' and 'Al-Ayyam' and arresting dozens of journalists, the Haniyeh government is going one step further by issuing this highly questionable directive. The Palestinian Authority is no better, as news media affiliated to Hamas are no longer allowed to work in the West Bank.

"One of the results of these coercive measures imposed by Hamas is to force Palestinian journalists to censor themselves. They are also helping to delay the return of foreign journalists, who pulled out of the Gaza Strip after British journalist Alan Johnston's abduction. Pluralism and media diversity are threatened by this kind of decision."

The communication ministry's directive has been greeted with concern by media owners in the Gaza Strip. Shahdi Al-Kashif, the head of the Ramattan news agency, told Reporters Without Borders that the political motives were much more important than the legal aspects.

"Journalists are caught in a game of reprisals between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority," he said. "Hamas is now asking us to register with the Gaza Strip government, while the Palestinian Authority bans any contact with this government, which it dissolved."

In a separate development, Hamas security services arrested three journalists - Yusef Fayad and Akram Al-Louh, who work for the daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, and online reporter Hani Ismael - at their homes in the central Gaza Strip town of Deir Al-Balah on 12 October and took their computers. They are still being held without charge.

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