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Gaza prison ruling against journalist Hajar Harb a dangerous precedent

An employee checks medicines at a medicine warehouse run by the Ministry of Health, in Gaza City, 3 April 2017
An employee checks medicines at a medicine warehouse run by the Ministry of Health, in Gaza City, 3 April 2017

REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

This statement was originally published on madacenter.org on 14 September 2017.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) denounces the Gaza Magistrate's Court in absentia decision to imprison journalist Hajar Mohammed Abu Samra for six months and impose a fine of NIS 1,000 (approx. 238 Euros). The case is related to a media investigative report prepared by the journalist for the Arab television network more than a year ago about corruption in the Medical Referrals Department of the Ministry of Health in Gaza Strip.

MADA expresses its deep concern over this ruling, which it considers a very serious precedent against media freedoms, freedom of expression and the role of the press in Palestine. It sees this as another setback amidst the growing repression of media freedoms.

It is noteworthy that the decision was issued in the absence of the journalist and without hers and her lawyer's knowledge, who learned about it after three months of issuance and only through social media.

Moreover, the journalist is currently abroad in Jordan for treatment of cancer, a condition she recently discovered.

The lawyer at Al-Mezan Center, Mirvat al-Nahal, who defends the journalist Hajar Harb, told MADA that she was surprised by the decision against her client, and that she did not know about the trial session, having now found out that the decision was issued more than three months ago on 4 June 2017.

She explained: "[These] charges were directed against my client: 1. Libel against the Referrals department in the Ministry of Health for financial and administrative corruption; 2. Publishing a news report about the Ministry of Health without accuracy / impartiality / non-substantive [evidence], which aroused hatred in the community; 3. The impersonation of others by claiming that her name is Mona Harb (as her official name)".

The lawyer also pointed out that: "According to Article 403 of the (Penal Code), the sentence should not be imposed on my client because of her health conditions, since she is currently abroad for treatment".

MADA Center wishes a speedy recovery for our colleague Hajar, and strongly condemns this decision, which lacks fair trial procedures. MADA also condemns the incitement against journalist Hajar Harb which has been ongoing for more than a year in relation to this case.

MADA calls for the annulment of this resolution, which flagrantly violates media freedom and undermines the media's critical oversight role in society.

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