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Journalists in West Bank and Gaza increasingly subjected to torture, psychological pressure

This statement was originally published on madacenter.org on 7 September 2016.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) expresses its deep concern over the widening circle of arrests carried out by Palestinian security services in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank against journalists and media workers. Violations include ill-treatment, torture and psychological pressure. Journalist Mohammad Othman's case, which was recently monitored by MADA, is one such example of the increasing violations journalists in Palestine are being subjected to.

Othman, who works as a correspondent for both The Monitor and Al Araby TV, was arrested by Hamas's internal security service in Gaza on 1 September 2016. He was summoned on 4 and 5 September to reclaim devices confiscated from his home during the arrest.

Othman spoke to MADA about his experience during his arrest and detention: "I was very badly treated, I was forced to stand with my arms lifted backwards. I was threatened to not disclose any information regarding what I was exposed to during my arrest or else they will end my future as a journalist."

Othman also posted to Facebook regarding what he was exposed to during his arrest. His public testimony angered the internal security services and he was subjected to more threats as he went back to retrieve his confiscated equipment.

"Once I arrived to the headquarters, I was escorted inside with black sunglasses so I can see nothing. After waiting for around 45 minutes, two officers showed up; one of them interrogated me on Friday, they started the conversation with a threatening tone, inquiring about what I had published on Facebook, asking me to come back on Monday, I was also informed that I won't be able to restore any of the confiscated devices under the pretext of defamation against them, on Monday the officer told me after escorting me to the headquarters, I will make you speak, I was held in a long corridor for an hour, then they returned my confiscated devices. We noticed that they had installed spy software on the devices."

This is only one case in which a journalist was subjected to torture and ill-treatment. The Al Aqsa Channel correspondent Tareq Abu Zayd was arrested by Palestinian Intelligence Services in Nablus on 16 May 2016 and detained for a period of 37 days. In a previous statement to MADA, Abu Zayd said: "I was beaten strongly during the first night. I was also threatened with displacement to Bethlehem or Jericho and threatened that they would arrest my wife as well."

"The toughest part of the torture was that I was forced by the interrogator to sit on the floor with my legs open while he pressed firmly on my sensitive area and slapped my face for about seven minutes," he continued. "This torture was repeated twice during my arrest, the second time the interrogator forced me to sit on the floor, he put his feet on my thighs asking me to smoke. When I refused as a non-smoker, he approached his cigarette toward my left eye, in a way that it almost touched my eye, and I felt its heat."

Abu Zayd also reported that over the 37 days of his arrest, interrogation was permissible at all times, except for Ramadan. "As interrogation times were after breakfast till Suhour time (between 8:00pm till 04:00am), I spent 10 days in the cell, including three days without a cover or a mattress, and a day and a half standing on my legs and prohibited from sitting down."

According to data compiled by MADA, since the beginning of 2016 until the end of August, a total of 16 cases of arrest and detention of journalists were carried out by Palestinian security services in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, noting that the number of such cases over the year 2015 amounted to 31 cases, and in 2014 they amounted to 15.

Pressure, abuse and torture are not limited to journalists who are arrested or detained, but it now being practiced on a wider, more systematic scale during the call for summons and interrogation which is considered a grave violation against media freedoms in Palestine.

The statement of Wattan News Agency correspondent and volunteer at Voice of the People radio in Gaza, Ezzedine Abu Aisha, regarding what he was exposed to during his summons by Gaza's internal security services on 16 May, is but one of example of this increasingly employed practice in Palestine. "From the moment that I arrived to the security services' headquarters, they began to interrogate me, the interrogator treated me badly, he asked me to stand in a specific position preventing me from any movement for a long time."

MADA strongly condemns the practices used by different Palestinian security services in both the West Bank and Gaza. MADA has monitored an increase in the use of torture, ill-treatment, and threats to pressure and harass journalists during their detention, their summons for investigation, or their arrest. We demand that those responsible are held accountable and we urge the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian security services to abide by the Palestinian Basic Law in article 13 which stipulates that “No person shall be subject to any duress or torture. Indictees and all persons deprived of their freedom shall receive proper treatment

Moreover, we at MADA demand all Palestinian parties including security services abide by international treaties as Palestine has now become a member state in several international treaties that guarantee respect for human rights and freedoms , and no human should be subjected to torture or cruel punishment or inhuman or degrading treatment according to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) that Palestine ratified in 2014, and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights that criminalize such practices.

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