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Gaza: Let Media Offices Reopen

July 29, 2013

From Human Rights Watch.

(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.  Read more at Human Rights Watch.

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