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Journalists pay a high price for freedom of expression, says MADA

(MADA/IFEX) - For 18 years, the world has been celebrating World Press Freedom Day on the 3rd of May, ever since it was approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1993. The significance of the celebration is to highlight violations against journalists and media institutions in all parts of the world, and promote a culture of free expression. This is especially important because freedom of speech is absent in a lot of countries.

The occupied Palestinian territories suffer from many freedom of expression violations. Media sector workers have been paying a high price for their insistence on covering events via word and image, which has subjected them to almost-daily violations by Israeli occupation forces and Palestinian security forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) monitored 69 violations against journalists in the first four months of this year; 57 violations were committed by the Israeli side, and 12 violations were committed by the Palestinian side.

This number is a serious and significant indicator of the low level of press freedom in the Palestinian territories. In the same period last year, the number of violations was almost the same; 62 violations (41 were committed by the Israeli side, and 21 violations were committed by the Palestinian side). While in 2008, there were 90 violations in the same period (64 were committed by Israeli side, and 26 by the Palestinian side). MADA monitored 173 violations during the last year.

Since the beginning of 2008, five journalists were killed by the Israeli occupation forces. They are: Fadel Shana'a, Ihab Wahidi, Basil Faraj, A'la Murtaja, and Omar Silawi. As there have been no cases of murder committed by the Palestinian side.

The continuing violation of media freedoms in the occupied Palestinian territories has had negative effects on Palestinian journalists, the media landscape in Palestine, and the free access to information. The Palestine TV correspondent Haroon Amyreh, who suffered several violations by the Israeli occupation forces since the beginning of this year, said: "The violations have a positive and negative impact on the journalist. The positive effect is that it increases the insistence of the journalist in conveying the truth to the whole world, and it gives him a greater motivation to continue covering the events, despite all the risks. While the negative effect is the feeling that there is no lasting security, when the beatings and insults by the Israeli occupation forces become routine for me."

"The lack of security for journalists makes the journalist's life hell and kills the motivation for work and creativity inside him", said the freelance journalist Mustafa Sabri, who expressed his feelings toward the multiple violations he had been subjected to by security forces in West Bank. He has been arrested several times, and he is concerned for the safety of his wife and eight children.

Alhayat Aljadedeh, a correspondent in Gaza Strip for "Nufouth Al-Bakri", expressed resentment towards some officials who refused to give her information when they found out she was working for the "Alhayat Aljadedeh" newspaper. Also, she complained about harassment from security agents from the dismissed government during her coverage of a press conference. It is worth mentioning that Al-Bakri's home was raided two separated times by unknown individuals who said they were from the Interior Ministry and Ministry of Information.

In its efforts to develop its work to reduce the suppression of media freedoms in Palestine, and on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, MADA will help journalists by providing two lawyers in West Bank and Gaza Strip to defend them, and provide legal consultations. MADA will also work to increase journalists' awareness of their legal rights by holding workshops and printing a legal guide about the practice of journalism in Palestine.

MADA will work to promote and enhance a culture of freedom of expression in Palestinian society through the media. MADA will also launch an updated version of its website that contains new links about media freedoms violations.

MADA calls on the international community to exercise real and effective pressure on Israel authorities to stop the continuing attacks on journalists, and also demands that the authorities in West Bank and Gaza stop all forms of suppression of media freedoms. MADA also demands the release of all detained journalists in Palestine and all over the world, and a safe working environment for journalists; and to respond to the UNESCO request to stand a minute of silence for the journalists who were killed, in order to show the truth, on Monday 3 May 2010. Thirty-six journalists from all over the world have been killed since the beginning of 2010, according to a Press Emblem Campaign press release.

MADA offers its warmest congratulations to fellow journalists in Palestine and all over the world on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, and hopes that Palestine and the entire world will witness a significant improvement in the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

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