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World Press Freedom Day: an occasion to defend freedom of expression

(MADA/IFEX) - Ramallah, 3 May 2012 - For Palestinian journalists, World Press Freedom Day 2012 will be a painful reminder of the significant deterioration of media freedoms in the occupied Palestinian territories in recent months.

Director of the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) Mousa Rimawi said the celebration of World Press Freedom Day is gaining true meaning in countries where citizens and journalists enjoy freedom of opinion and expression.

But for Palestinian journalists, today highlights the daily challenges they face, with increasing violations against media freedoms by the Israeli occupation and security services and Palestinian parties in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This global event reminds Palestinian journalists of their colleagues killed by Israeli occupation forces: Fadel Shana, Ala Murtaja, Nazeh Darwaza, Basil Faraj, British journalist James Miller, and Italian journalist Raffaele Ciriello. It is also a time to remember journalist
Vittorio Aggrigoni who was kidnapped and killed by an armed Palestinian group in Gaza, and the many other Palestinian and foreign journalists killed while doing their jobs.

Rimawi said the international community was showing double standards by remaining silent about Israeli violations against Palestinian journalists and media institutions, while calling for the Arab states and the Palestinian Authority to respect freedom of expression.

He said this policy encouraged the Israeli occupation to continue its attacks on journalists, including storming the headquarters of media outlets and confiscating their equipment, as occurred with Wattan TV and Al Quds Al Tarbawi TV.

Rimawi stressed the need to protect Palestinian journalists and media outlets by placing real and effective pressure on Israeli occupation authorities to halt all violations, particularly physical attacks that endanger the lives of journalists. He said Israeli authorities should also
be pressured to return equipment seized from various media headquarters in recent years.

Rimawi called on the international community to urgently release the following list of journalists detained in Israeli administrative prisons: Nawaf Al Amer, Amin Abu Warda, Walid Khalid, Amer Abu Arafeh. He said the continued policy of administrative detention of journalists, without formally charging them or submitting them to a fair trial charge, was a flagrant violation of human rights and international law.

Israeli occupation authorities arrested Aqsa TV program coordinator Nawaf Al Amer on 28 June 2011 and arrested Gulf Emirates newspaper reporter and PNN correspondent Amin Abu Warda on 28 December 2011. Israeli occupation authorities also arrested journalist Amer Abu Arafa, correspondent for Shihab news agency, on 21 August 2011, and arrested office manager for "Palestine" newspaper in the West Bank, Waleed Khaled, on 8 May 2011. All four journalists were detained administratively and without charge.

Rimawi also expressed concern over continued Palestinian violations in recent months, including the growing number of arrests of journalists and bloggers and the blocking of websites such as Amad and Milad. He said these arrests and other forms of abuse had resulted in poor media freedoms internally in Palestine. Significantly, Palestinian violations exceeded Israeli violations for the first time last year (106 and 100 violations respectively.)

A study issued by MADA Center last year found that social media facilitated communication between people and enhanced dialogue and freedom of expression.

MADA Center calls on the relevant Palestinian authorities to respect the freedom of opinion and expression guaranteed under the Palestinian Basic Law and to support appropriate working conditions for journalists. This will allow the media to take its role as the fourth estate, and thereby contributing to the development of Palestinian society and promote democracy.

Mousa Rimawi said: "We at MADA condemn all attacks on journalists and reaffirm our commitment to defend media freedoms and freedom of expression in cooperation with all institutions and Palestinian figures, particularly our partners in the coalition to defend freedom of expression. We know that these partners are also keen to ensure that journalists and citizens have the right to express their opinions freely."

The MADA legal unit will continue its mission to defend journalists in court and provide free legal advice, as well as continuing its role raising awareness of legal issues around freedom of expression.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms congratulates all journalists, in Palestine and around the world. We hope for a better year ahead for journalists with greater freedom of expression.

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