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Ministry of Interior attempts to ban social media conference

(MADA/IFEX) - Ramallah, 5 December 2011 - The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) expresses its deep concern over the serious violations against media freedoms committed by security forces in the Gaza Strip over the past two weeks.

The most recent occurred on 4 December 2011, when security services raided and halted the conference The First Palestinian Conference on Social Media being held at the Light House venue in Gaza City, in conjunction with a Ramallah event via video conferencing. Security services stated that the prohibition was the result of event organisers failing to obtain the necessary permits.

The Amin Network Office Director in the Gaza Strip, Mohammed Abu Sharkh, stated that members of the investigative security services came to the venue and ordered an immediate end to the conference under the pretence that they did not hold a licence from the Ministry of the Interior and declared the event illegal. Event organisers countered that they had received permission from the Ministry of Information in the Gaza Strip, however security members said this was not sufficient and shut down the event.

Abu Sharkh added: "After the intervention of government parties and non-governmental organizations, they have agreed for us to resume the conference after obtaining written approval from the Ministry of Interior, which we received this morning, so we completed the conference."

The conference was attended by approximately 180 journalists, bloggers and academics from Gaza universities.

In the past two weeks the internal security services of the Gaza Strip have arrested a number of Palestinian journalists including Aswar Press correspondent Ziad Awad, taken from his home on Tuesday 21 November; freelance journalist Mahmoud Al-Barbar, arrested Thursday 24 November; Chief Editor of Al-Naher Agency Hani Al-Agha, who was released after one week in detention; and Aswar Press correspondent Salah Abu Salah on 28 November.

In addition to the arrests, Aswar Press Agency supervisor and correspondent of the Lebanese Al-Quds magazine Manal Khamis was summoned for investigation three times by security services between 28 November and 1 December 2011.

Internal security personnel additionally prevented the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate from holding a workshop in commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity on Wednesday 23 November 2011.

A Journalists' Syndicate council member in Gaza Strip, Yousef Al-Ostaz, said that his colleagues Sami Abu Salem and Tahseen Al-Astal were contacted by a member of the Internal Security services who ordered them to cancel the workshop, and said if they wanted to implement any work on behalf of the syndicate they must first coordinate with "the new transitional council" - a council formed by a group of journalists affiliated with Hamas and Al-Jihad groups after their raid and hostile takeover of the syndicate's headquarter on 11 October 2011. Security representatives also contacted Palestine University and ordered them to cancel a workshop they had scheduled.

MADA center condemns this blatant security service campaign against journalists in the Gaza Strip, which stands in direct contravention to the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of Palestinian Basic Law. MADA calls upon the relevant authorities to immediately release all detained journalists and end their campaign of media harassment.

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