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CPJ condemns prison sentence handed to journalist in West Bank

(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, July 30, 2010 - The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Palestinian authorities in the West Bank to release Amer Abu Arfa, a correspondent for the Shihab news agency, who was convicted and imprisoned in connection with his news coverage. The agency, based in the Gaza Strip, is perceived by the Palestinian Authority as being pro-Hamas.

Abu Arfa was arrested on May 11 by Palestinian security forces, according to his father, who told Shihab that his son was taken from their home by the Palestinian Intelligence Services for reasons linked to his work as a journalist. The father said he is worried Abu Arfa has been abused in custody. On July 26, a court in Hebron sentenced Abu Arfa to three months in prison and a fine of 500 Jordanian dinars (US$700) after finding him guilty of "resisting the policies of the authorities" in connection with his reporting, Rimah Mubarak, director of Shihab, told CPJ.

The Palestinian Authority is holding at least one other journalist in the West Bank. Tareq Abu Zaid, a reporter for the Gaza-based Al-Aqsa satellite channel, was sentenced in January by a Palestinian Authority military court to 18 months in prison for allegedly "transferring information and money" in violation of the law. The station was outlawed in the West Bank by the Palestinian Authority in 2007, CPJ research shows.

Since sentencing Abu Zaid, security forces in the West Bank have ignored a Palestinian Supreme Court ruling calling for the journalist's release, according to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), a local press freedom organization. Abu Zaid's lawyer told MADA that his client's trial was unfair and that it should never have taken place in a military court.

Several other journalists working for Gaza-based media have been briefly detained in the West Bank in recent weeks, according to multiple reports.

"We call on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to order the release of Abu Zaid and Abu Arfa immediately," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "There is a history of harassment of journalists working for Gaza-based media or outlets perceived to be pro-Hamas. We call on authorities in both Gaza and the West Bank to not use journalists as pawns in a political power struggle."

In Gaza, Hamas recently blocked three West Bank-based newspapers - Al-Hayat al-Jadida, Al-Ayyam, and Al-Quds - from circulating, according to news reports. Hamas security forces stopped the newspapers at the Erez Crossing on July 7, apparently perceiving the papers to be pro-Palestinian Authority.

The authority, for its part, has banned distribution of several pro-Hamas newspapers like Al-Risala weekly and Al-Falastin daily.

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