Relatives of Palestinian journalists in the West Bank who have been arrested by the Palestinian Authority say there is no reason for the arrests except what they call revenge for the arrest of a journalist for the official Palestinian TV station by Hamas in Gaza.
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The journalists are Mamdouh Hamamrah, 33, a reporter for the Al-QudsTV channel, and Qotaybah Qasem, 29, a freelance journalist, both from Bethlehem; Tariq Abu Zaid, 42, from Nablus, a reporter at the al-Aqsa TV channel, identified with Hamas, Amer Abu Arafah ,35, from Hebron, a reporter at the Shehab News Agency, also identified with Hamas and Mohammed Ahmed Halayqah, 31, from Hebron, also a reporter for Al-Quds TV.
The five men were arrested before dawn on Wednesday by Palestinian intelligence officials. “They waited for him at the house and asked him to accompany them without explaining what happened, Halayqah’s father Abu Azrak told Haaretz.
“We don’t know what he did and what they suspect him of. The claim that he leaked information to hostile elements is not true. The attorney the family hired to represent him isn’t getting any serous information about what happened and why, but we are sure that it’s connected to the struggle between Fatah and Hamas,” Abu Zaid’s father said.
Saleh Qasem, Qotaybah Qasem’s father, said he believes his son is innocent of any wrongdoing and that he wrote nothing that constitutes a crime. “I said and I’ll repeat that if he did write something that went beyond his work as a journalist let him be punished, but I know that this is a political arrest,” he said.
Underscoring the families’ sense of the reason for the arrests is news that came Sunday from the Gaza Strip that a court there had decided to release on bail the Palestinian TV reporter Fouad Jarada, who was arrested on June 8 by the Hamas security forces at the entrance to his home in the southern Gaza City neighborhood of Tel el-Hawa, on suspicion of maintaining contact with a Palestinian journalist from Ramallah. A Palestinian security official in Ramallah said he believed that Jarada’s release in Gaza will accelerate the release of the five journalists in the West Bank. The families of the journalists said they had received hints that the matter of their release would be examined in the coming days.
The arrests of the journalists come following a decision by the PA last month to block several websites in the West Bank, including those identified with Hamas or with Abbas’ rival, Mahmoud Dahlan. The journalists’ arrests and the website closures came following an order issued officially last month and recently signed by Abbas. The order, which has dozens of clauses, relates to what are defined as electronic crimes, harm to public security and the fabric of society, insulting religious sensibilities and incitement to racism and disturbing the peace.
According to the Palestinian prosecution, the arrests have nothing to do with the new order and the alleged offenses are security offenses. However, in a hearing last week in Bethlehem on extending the detention of two of the journalists, the prosecutor cited clause 20 of the new order, which calls for the arrest of anyone who harms state and public security by means of an internet site or social media.
Attorney Sahar Francis of the human rights group Adameer, who is representing two of the journalists, said the prosecution did indeed cite the new order with regard to the arrests, but that political figures were also involved and that their release might be connected with a political decision regarding the release of Jarada in Gaza. “This proves that the arrest is political and the use of the law was just to justify it legally.”