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Journalists' groups demand release of British journalist

(IFJ/IFEX) - 16 February, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists and its affiliate in the United Kingdom, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), today challenged the Gaza authorities over the unprecedented action of security officials to detain a British freelance journalist.

The arrest and detention yesterday of documentary filmmaker Paul Martin came as he was about to give evidence at a military tribunal. His detention was a "shocking violation of journalists' rights" according to the IFJ, who demanded his immediate release.

Martin was told he was suspected of security offences and would be held for 15 days, in an action that has raised fears for the safety of all foreign correspondents in the Gaza Strip. He had just begun to give evidence on behalf of a Gaza man accused of collaborating with Israel when the prosecutor intervened and ordered police to arrest him. Eye witness reports say he was treated roughly as he was taken from the court.

Martin, who has produced reports in the past for the BBC and the Times, is accused of harming Gaza's security. He was due to speak on behalf of Mohammed Abu Muailik, with whom he has been working on a documentary and who has been in detention since June. The order to detain him is reportedly based on a confession by Abu Muailik.

"This is an astonishing incident that casts a shadow over all foreign correspondents trying to work in Gaza," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "Hamas must guarantee the rights of journalists in the area."

This concern was echoed by the NUJ in London. "Journalists must be allowed to work freely, without intimidation and fear of being arrested," said Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary. "We support calls from the IFJ and from groups on the ground for Martin to be set free."

What worries the IFJ is that this incident signals a change in attitude from Hamas in its dealings with local foreign correspondents. Until now Hamas, which took over Gaza from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, nearly three years ago, has avoided confrontations with foreign journalists.

A spokeswoman for the British consulate in Jerusalem said the British government was "very concerned" and has been in touch with Martin's family. Raji Sourani, a prominent human rights lawyer in Gaza, said he was asked by Martin to represent him.

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