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MADA condemns free expression violations perpetrated by security force personnel in Gaza

(MADA/IFEX) - 21 March 2011, Ramallah - MADA reports that Hamas security force personnel have recently carried out numerous violent attacks on journalists covering youth protests that are sweeping the Gaza Strip. MADA has received reports of security service personnel beating, insulting, threatening and detaining journalists, in addition to reports of raids on several media agency offices.

A new wave of peaceful actions was launched in Gaza on 15 March 2011 as part of ongoing public demands for an end to the internal Palestinian split between Fatah and Hamas. Throughout these events, security forces in Gaza have continued to act with no regard for the appeals and protests of human rights institutions and civil society organizations calling upon the government to practice restraint and end all attacks on journalists and demonstrators.

Alwatan Voice radio correspondent Nasr Abu Alfoul was assaulted on 20 March while covering youth protester activities in Aljundi Almajhoul yard. "While I was covering events from the yard, I was approached by three members of the police who wanted to arrest me. I told them that I was live on air, but they didn't listen and took me by force to a room near the yard where they accused me of providing (Ramallah) with information. I denied the accusation, so they beat me severely with sticks and batons. Then after two hours they released me, after coercing me into signing a pledge of commitment to public order," the radio correspondent said.

On the same day, female Palestinian journalists were also harassed by security service personnel, who beat them and verbally abused them. "Alhayat Aljadedah" newspaper correspondent Nufouth Al-Bakri said that members of the internal security service followed her while she was covering the events in Aljundi Almajhoul yard, where they tried to force her to leave the area and attempted to confiscate her camera. Al-Bakri added, "They were focusing their attacks on the female journalists and female demonstrators yesterday, and they harassed all of the journalists from the region. They were pushing and cursing us using obscene language".

The free expression violations continued when approximately ten individuals belonging to the security services raided the headquarters of the Reuters news agency, where they physically assaulted and pointed handguns at the faces of the journalists present in the offices: Abed Rabbo Shana, Mohamed Sobhi Abdel-Rahman and Mohamed Jadallah. Shana said that security service personnel raided the offices without justification, beat journalists with batons and then pointed guns at their faces while the beatings continued. Shana added, "In addition to that, they confiscated a camera and broke some equipment. The camera was returned two hours later."

These attacks targeting journalists have become increasingly violent following the beginning of the youth movement actions on 15 March, with large groups of journalists and media institutions being attacked.

MADA strongly condemns the repeated attacks on journalists and denounces the continuing use of intimidation and scare tactics, to obstruct journalists from covering current events in Gaza. MADA is particularly concerned over the singling out of female journalists as targets for harassment and abuse. MADA calls on the Hamas government to respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the Gaza Strip, to investigate all reported incidents of attacks on journalists by the security services and to ensure that those responsible for the attacks are held accountable for their involvement.

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