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Hamas closure media outlets sparks defence of press freedom


Journalists rally in Ramallah August 1st in protest against Hamas’ repression of media outlets in Gaza

Journalists rally against Gaza crackdown

By Ma’an news
August 02, 2013

RAMALLAH – Palestinian journalists joined a sit-in strike near Ramallah on Thursday protesting a decision by the Hamas-run government in Gaza to close media offices of Ma’an Network, Al Arabiya and others.

The protesters, among them Palestinian politicians and dignitaries, urged the Hamas government to reopen all the media offices it closed, and to end a ban on the entry of three major Palestinian newspapers.

The protest was organized and called by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, the main press union in Palestine.

Protesters raised posters expressing rejection of the restrictions on freedom of expression imposed by the Hamas-run government and its security services in the coastal enclave. Part of these restrictions is a policy of closing offices of media organizations, and detention of journalists, according to the posters the protesters waved.

Head of the journalists syndicate Abdul-Nasser Najjar addressed the protesters and expressed astonishment over the ongoing assaults against journalists in Gaza.

“We were surprised as Hamas continued with assaults against Palestinian media organizations, shutting down offices of Ma’an News Network and some other media offices. This is part of an ongoing practice,” Najjar said. He highlighted that “since Hamas staged its coup in Gaza, the main three Palestinian daily newspapers were banned in the Gaza Strip.”

He added that the Hamas-run government had closed several radio and TV stations and confiscated their equipment “suffocating freedom of expression and fighting Palestinian media outlets.”

Journalists have always appealed to Palestinian officials urging them to keep media outlets away from all political disagreements “because media outlets are the conscience of this people and because Palestinian journalists play a major part in resistance against Israeli occupation,” Najjar continued.

Thus, he added, we can never agree that an internal front fight against Palestinian media “when some people claim they were wronged by untrue information.”

“If any media outlet publishes false news, there is the judiciary and the union’s committee of ethics to question that outlet and hold it accountable. However, if media outlets are closed because their editorial policy conflicts with political parties, that is very dangerous. So far, all Hamas’ claims are unacceptable as all they claim is false news.”

Commenting on Hamas’ decision to shut down Ma’an’s office a week earlier, apparently out of anger that it quoted an Israeli news report about critical of the government in Gaza, Najjar said, “What crime did Ma’an commit translating a quote from another media outlet … Is translation forbidden according to the Hamas authorities’ policies? This is very dangerous and can never be accepted.”


Abed al-Nasser al-Najjar, head of the Palestinian journalists’ syndicate.

Najjar highlighted that his union lodged a complaint to the Palestinian attorney general against Hamas officials including the chair of the government’s media office in Gaza “and the one who claims to be attorney general.”

He insisted there is only one attorney general in the Palestinian Authority.

“We will lodge complaints against any Palestinian official regardless of their position,” he said, “if they close any media outlet or prevent any journalist from doing their duties.”

He added that all officials who oppress media outlets will be “blacklisted.”

Najjar also wondered why the Hamas government insisted on confiscating the keys of Ma’an’s office even though the offices were sealed, and why its journalists were not allowed to access them.

“For what purpose did they take the keys? Do they want to mess with the equipment or confiscate it? Dangerous things have been taking place in Gaza after the coup, and media organizations and journalists are paying the price.”

For her part, Ma’an Network chairwoman Nibal Thawabta addressed the protesters to remind them that violations against Palestinian media were ongoing. International watchdog reports, she added, prove that freedom of the press and public freedom in Palestine is on the decline.

She said that Palestinian journalists, press organizations, unions, and academic institutions in Palestine were united against restrictions on freedom of expression and the policy of “muzzling.”

“As journalists, we seek to exert every possible effort to enhance freedoms through sit-ins and other activities. We call upon all political parties to leave Palestinian media alone so they can practice their duties as the fourth branch (of government).”



Journalists in Ramallah protest against a previous clamp-down on press freedom by Hamas, on this occasion the detainment of journalists in January this year. Photo by Issam Rimawi/Flash90

Hamas summons Ma’an bureau chief in Gaza

By Ma’an news
July 31, 2013

BETHLEHEM — Hamas authorities in Gaza on Tuesday summoned the bureau chief of Ma’an’s Gaza office for questioning and confiscated the keys to the office, a journalists’ union said.

Abed al-Nasser al Najjar, chairman of the Palestinian Journalists’ Union, said that the group has filed a complaint against the office of Gaza’s public prosecutor for violating press freedoms and stifling freedom of expression.

The closure of Ma’an’s Gaza office, as ordered by Gaza’s prosecutor general on July 25, is a step to permanently taking control of the office, al-Najjar said.

Hamas authorities could confiscate content from the office, or install spyware devices to monitor journalists, the union chairman added.

The group will contact international journalists’ unions to pressure Hamas authorities to reopen the office, which has been closed since July 25.

Last Thursday, the attorney-general in the Hamas-run government ordered the closure of the Ma’an News Agency and Al-Arabiya TV bureaus in Gaza.

A Hamas official told AFP that the attorney-general closed Al-Arabiya’s office “for distributing false news regarding the smear campaign against Hamas and Gaza about what’s happening in Egypt.”

The closure order from the attorney-general was delivered to Ma’an by officials from the Hamas-run Ministry of Information and security forces.

On Sunday, Human Rights Watch said that Hamas “should immediately revoke the summary closure of two media offices.”

“If the Gaza authorities think that these news outlets have misrepresented them, it should be easy enough to provide accurate information and debunk their stories, but they shouldn’t just shut down their critics,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.


PFLP slams Hamas closure of Ma’an, Al-Arabiya offices

By Ma’an news
July 30, 2013

BETHLEHEM — The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on Saturday voiced concern over Hamas’ decision to close the Gaza offices of Ma’an News Agency and Al-Arabiya TV.

The closure “violates the freedom of press, and embodies an oppressive police-based trend in dealing with all issues,” the PFLP statement said.

“No matter what pretext the Hamas government and its Attorney-General cited as reasons to close the press bureaus, there isn’t any legal justification that gives them a right to treat this case in a police-based way.”

On Thursday, the attorney-general in the Hamas-run government ordered the closure of the Ma’an News Agency and Al-Arabiya TV bureaus in Gaza.

A Hamas official told AFP that the attorney-general closed Al-Arabiya’s office “for distributing false news regarding the smear campaign against Hamas and Gaza about what’s happening in Egypt.”

The closure order from the attorney-general was delivered to Ma’an by officials from the Hamas-run Ministry of Information and security forces.

Ministry officials accompanied by security forces questioned the Gaza bureau chief in his office on Thursday over a report published on Ma’an’s Arabic site that quoted information translated from a Hebrew news site.

The closure was condemned by several Palestinian factions, including the Palestinian National Initiative, Fatah, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian Peoples’ Party.


PCHR Concerned over Closing Offices of al-Arabiya Channel and Ma’an News Agency in Gaza by Attorney-General’s Decision

Media release, July 28, 2013
Ref: 77/2013

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is concerned over closing the offices of al-Arabiya Satellite Channel, Ma’an News Agency and Lines Media Company upon a decision issued by the Attorney General in Gaza. PCHR calls upon the Attorney General to reconsider this decision and respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression and press freedoms that are guaranteed under the Palestinian Basic Law and international human rights standards.

According to investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 16:30 on Thursday, 25 July 2013, 6 members of the General Investigation Service (GIS) in civilian clothes arrived to the office of MBC group, which includes the office of al-Arabiya Channel, on the 12th floor of al-Shorouq building in the west of Gaza City. The GIS members showed a decision issued by the Attorney General in Gaza, Isma’il Jaber, to temporarily close the office of al-Arabiya Channel and seize its contents. At approximately 16:40 of the same day, other GIS members headed to the office of Ma’an News Agency on the 6th floor of Shawwa and Husari building in the west of Gaza City. They informed the staff of the Attorney General’s decision to close the office and seize its contents.

In the evening, the Ministry of Information in Gaza published a press release issued by the Attorney General.[1] The press release stated the Attorney Aeneral in Gaza had issued a decision to close the offices of al-Arabiya Satellite Channel and Ma’an News Agency in Gaza. According to the press release also, “This decision was issued because these 2 media offices had published fabricated news, rumors and inaccurate information that posed a threat to civil peace and negatively affected the Palestinian people and resistance.” Moreover, the Governmental Media Office stated that it filed an official complaint against Ma’an News Agency because it published a news item claiming that leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt had sneaked into Gaza, which was attributed to an unnamed “Israeli” source.

Moreover, the Ministry of Information in Gaza declared on its website that it questioned the director of Ma’an News Agency’s office in Gaza about the agency’s news:[2] “The Ministry of Information asked the director of Ma’an News Agency’s office in the Gaza Strip about a fake news item published by the agency, claiming that leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt sneaked into the Gaza Strip and were staying in a hotel in Gaza City. The agency attributed this piece of news to unknown Israeli sources. The Ministry pointed out that this news item was untrue and depended on Israeli sources. It also stressed that Ma’an News Agency insisted to engage the Gaza Strip in the Egyptian crisis and promote the Egyptian incitement against the Gaza Strip.”

Hamas issued a press release through different media, calling upon the legal authorities and officials in the government of Gaza to take the necessary legal action against this agency and whoever incites violence and hatred against Palestinians.

In the same context, the Attorney General issued a decision to close Lines Media Company. According to the Attorney General’s statement, the decision was issued was based on a decision issued by the Council of Ministers in Gaza to prevent communication with media agencies that cooperate with the Israeli authorities, pointing out that the company had communicated with the Israeli “124NEWS” satellite channel.

In light of the above, PCHR asserts the following:

1- The right to freedom of opinion and expression is guaranteed under article 19 of the Palestinian Basic Law and under international human rights standards;
2- The Palestinian Basic Law denies any form of monitoring, ban or warning or the imposition of restrictions over the media unless by a judicial decision in conformity with article (27-3) of the same Law;
3- With our reservation on the Press and Publications Law of 1995, it entitles courts only to consider all violations of the law and oblige media agencies to announce their sources of information; and
4- Closing the offices upon a decision by the Attorney General, in light of the technological development and information revolution, will not stop the information flow to people in Gaza or anywhere and will not undermine the messages sent by such channels.

Therefore, PCHR:

1- Calls upon the Attorney General in Gaza to reconsider his decisions and re-open the offices of al-Arabiya Channel, Ma’an News Agency and Lines Media Company; and
2- Calls upon the government in Gaza to respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression and press freedoms that are guaranteed under the Palestinian Basic Law and international human right standards.

[1] The press release published by the Ministry of Information in Gaza on 25 July 2013, http://www.gmo.ps/ar/?page=news_det&id=102912#.UfJR9G1HV0c
[2] The press release published by the Ministry of Information in Gaza on 25 July 2013, (http://www.gmo.ps/ar/?page=news_det&id=102909#.UfJR_G1HV0c)


Gaza: Let Media Offices Reopen

Accused of ‘Fabricating’ Reports

Media release from Human Rights Watch
July 29, 2013

Jerusalem – The Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip should immediately revoke the summary closure of two media offices. Gaza officials’ allegations that the media offices had “fabricated” reports do not justify their closure under international law. The authorities’ refusal to provide the media offices with copies of the closure order impedes their ability to challenge the closures before the courts.

In a statement to the news media, Ismail Jaber, the Gaza prosecutor general, said on July 25, 2013, that he had ordered the closure of the Gaza offices of the regional broadcaster al-Arabiya and the Ma’an News Agency, a Palestinian outlet, because they had “fabricat[ed] news and diffused false rumors and baseless information, threatening civil peace and harming the Palestinian people and their resistance.” The two outlets had broadcast and published reports implicating Hamas in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

“If the Gaza authorities think that these news outlets have misrepresented them, it should be easy enough to provide accurate information and debunk their stories, but they shouldn’t just shut down their critics,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “These actions do not square with Gaza authorities’ claims to respect media freedom.”

The prosecutor general closed al-Arabiya’s office “for distributing false news regarding the smear campaign against Hamas and Gaza about what’s happening in Egypt,” Agence France Presse reported on July 25, citing an unnamed Hamas official. Al Resalah, a pro-Hamas newspaper, quoted a Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, as stating that al-Arabiya “aims to distort the image of the Palestinian resistance by means of lying to the Egyptian people that the Palestinians are involved in the turmoil in Egypt.”

Egyptian officials and media have alleged that Hamas fighters helped senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood escape from Egypt’s Wati Natroun prison during the January 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak’s rule.

At about 4:30 p.m. on July 25, police detectives from the General Investigation Department arrived at the offices of al-Arabiya in the Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City and said that they had an order from the prosecutor general to close the office, that they would arrest anyone entering it, and that no one should remove any of its contents, al-Arabiya staff told Human Rights Watch.

“The detectives didn’t give us a copy of the order,” the bureau chief, Islam Abdul Karim, told Human Rights Watch. “We were surprised, but two days previously Hamas had issued statements against al-Arabiya, so maybe we shouldn’t have been.” He said that police detectives told him the closure order was “temporary” but did not say how long the office would be closed. Al-Arabiya had not yet decided whether to file a legal appeal against the order, he said. “First we will try to give diplomacy a chance,” he said. Eleven people work in the office.

Ma’an News reported that “officials from the Ministry of Information and security forces” closed its Gaza office and questioned its bureau chief there about a July 24 article. The article cited an Israeli news report that six Muslim Brotherhood officials from Egypt had “smuggled themselves into Gaza to plan an uprising against the [Egyptian] military” on behalf of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsy, the head of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s political party. Ma’an News reported that it had complained to the office of Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and the Information Ministry.

Police detectives also refused to provide staff of Ma’an News with a copy of the prosecutor general’s closure order, staff told Human Rights Watch. A lawyer for Ma’an News, Shawqi Aissa, told Human Rights Watch that he had not seen the order but hoped to learn more details on July 28 or 29.

Ma’an News quoted an unnamed Hamas official as saying the Gaza government had ordered its closure because it considered that the news agency “deliberately publishes false news reports seeking to incite against Gaza” and was “complicit with Egyptian media outlets in incitement against the Strip and making up lies to harm the image of Palestinian resistance.”

The prosecutor general said the closure orders against al-Arabiya and Ma’an News were “temporary,” but did not specify when the two media offices could reopen.

The prosecutor general also ordered police to close a Gaza media production company, Lens, because it had provided broadcast services to I24 News, a channel based in Israel. Human Rights Watch is investigating whether the closure violated the Gaza government’s pledges to uphold human rights norms.

The New York Times reported that a Lens employee had said the head of the Gaza government’s media office told him on July 25 that Lens was violating a government decision in January to bar Palestinians in Gaza from working with Israeli news organizations.

The Hamas-run Gaza government is not internationally recognized as a state and therefore cannot ratify international human rights treaties, but it has repeatedly pledged to uphold human rights standards, including freedom of the press.

Under human rights law, everyone is ensured the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds. Governments may restrict the content of what the media can broadcast or print but only in narrow and clearly prescribed circumstances, for reasons of national security, public order, or public health or morals. The United Nations Human Rights Committee stated in a general comment that restrictions on the right to freedom of expression must be “provided by law,” may only be imposed for a legitimate reason, and must conform to the strict tests of necessity and proportionality.


Hamas Closes News Media Outlets

By Fares Akram, NY Times
July 25, 2013

GAZA — Hamas, the Islamist militant group controlling the Gaza Strip, closed news media offices and a television production company on Thursday for what it called the spreading of false reports and working for Israeli television.

The offices belonged to the Al Arabiya news channel, which is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and to Maan, a Palestinian news agency based in Bethlehem, West Bank.

Hamas also shut down a local production company called Lens because it had provided broadcast services to I24 News, a new channel based in Israel that broadcasts in Arabic, English and French.

Ismail Jaber, Hamas’s attorney general, said his office had received complaints that Al Arabiya and Maan had “spread rumors and fabricated news” and had provided information that “threaten the social peace and harm the Palestinian people and their resistance.”

He added the closings were temporary, without explaining further.

The move came after Al Arabiya and Maan both reported that some leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt had fled to Gaza after the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi this month. The reports attributed the information to Israeli news media reports and unidentified sources, saying that six Brotherhood leaders were directing pro-Morsi activities in Egypt from a hotel room in Gaza City.

Hamas, which won elections in 2006 and took full control of Gaza in 2007, is an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.

In the wake of the ouster of Mr. Morsi, tensions between the Egyptian military and Hamas have been growing. Egyptian military officials have told state news media that scores of Hamas fighters and snipers have been making their way into Egypt to battle the anti-Morsi demonstrators, and newspaper columnists have accused Hamas of interfering in Egypt’s affairs.

Meanwhile, an employee of Lens said the Hamas-run government’s media office told the company that it was violating a January government decision to bar Palestinian journalists in Gaza from working with or providing services to Israeli news organizations and broadcasters.

The employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the director of the Government Media Office told him that I24 News was a hostile Zionist channel. About an hour later, the police headed for the Lens office and closed it, based on an order from the attorney general.

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