The Palestinian Authority released on Monday the five journalists it had arrested last week on charges of publishing materials harmful to public security. Four of them had worked for Hamas-affiliated media outlets, and the fifth worked as a freelance journalist. They were released on bail and not indicted.
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Despite the prosecution's initial claim that the arrests were not related to the new order issued by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that clamps down on electronic crimes, the prosecutor cited a clause from the order which calls for the arrest of anyone who harms state and public security online.
The court had originally agreed to keep them in custody for 15 more days, but that decision was cancelled on Monday when the court granted them bail set at 1000 Jordanian dinars ($1,400).
The journalists' lawyers and families said they had anticipated the court would change its ruling after a Palestinian television reporter in Gaza, Fouad Jarada, would be set free. The families of the five said their arrest was most likely revenge for Hamas' arresting of Jarada on June 8.
The journalists are Mamdouh Hamamrah, 33, from Bethlehem, a reporter for the Al-Quds TV channel; Mohammed Ahmed Halayqah, 31, from Hebron, also a reporter for Al-Quds TV; Tariq Abu Zaid, 42, from Nablus, a reporter at the al-Aqsa TV channel; Amer Abu Arafah ,35, from Hebron, a reporter at the Shehab News Agency; and Qotaybah Qasem, 29, a freelance journalist from Bethlehem.
Qasem, the freelance journalist, told Haaretz: "This is not the first time that I've been arrested by the PA security services, and every time it ended with my release after a few days, all because I was writing against the PA. This time, they didn'tnt present me with any wording or article that incriminated me, and I knew from the outset that this was a political arrest because of the detention of the journalist in Gaza, and the moment we knew he was being released, we understood that our release was also soon."
Qasem insisted that the fact that he viewed his arrest as political did not diminish the gravity of the new order, which contains many clauses that he believes to infringe on the freedom of expression.
Attorney Sahar Francis of the human rights group Adameer, who is representing two of the journalists, told Haaretz that their bail and the lack of an indictment proves that their initial arrest was politically motivated.
The arrests of the journalists had 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.