Hamas puts heavy tolls on NGOs, radio stations

Independent bodies facing closure after Islamist gov't in Strip sets high fees for renewing licenses.

Haniyeh  224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Haniyeh 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Several NGOs, including radio stations, are facing closure after the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip decided to impose high fees and new conditions for renewing their licenses. Human rights organizations in the Gaza Strip on Sunday sent a letter of protest to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh urging him to cancel the new measures. Last week the Hamas-controlled Communications Ministry sent letters to the owners of radio stations in the Gaza Strip asking them to pay nearly 10,000 Jordanian dinars (about $14,000) as an annual fee for licenses. In addition, the Hamas government has asked dozens of non-profit institutions to make public statements about the sources of their funding and the financial status of their employees. These institutions have also been asked to pay new taxes to the Hamas government. The measures are seen by human rights activists in Gaza as an attempt to take control over the international organizations and maintain a tight grip over the local media. Khalil Abu Shamalah, director of the Addamer rights organization, accused the Hamas government of working to undermine civil society in the Gaza Strip by targeting the NGOs and media. He said that he and his colleagues were surprised by the new measures which, if they remained unchanged, would result in the closure of dozens of institutions and the firing of hundreds of employees. "These are vital and necessary organizations that the [Hamas] government should have facilitated their work and not impose high fees and astonishing new conditions on them," Abu Shamalah said. "We were expecting this government to exempt organizations and companies operating in the Gaza Strip from paying taxes and fees because they survived the last war [Operation Cast Lead]." Referring to the timing of the new measures, Abu Shamalah asked in his letter to Haniyeh: "We don't understand what's new in the Gaza Strip. Has the siege been lifted? Have tens of thousands of workers gone back to work? Have we started exporting goods through the official border crossings? Wasn't it better if the government had provided these institutions with financial aid instead of chasing them only a few months after the fierce war?" The Hamas measures have thus far affected six local radio stations whose owners announced on Sunday that they would go off the air if the Hamas government insisted on collecting heavy fees from them. According to the owners, the Hamas ministry informed them that their licenses would not be renewed unless each station paid about 10,000 Jordanian dinars. One of the station owners said he saw no reason why he and his colleagues should pay high fees to Hamas at a time when its ministry was not providing them with any of the services as required by law. A journalist in the Gaza Strip said the goal was to force non-Hamas stations off the air so they could be replaced by Hamas-controlled broadcasters. Yusef al-Mansi, communications minister in the Hamas government, defended his ministry's decision to collect the fees. He pointed out that most of the stations were established during the era of the Palestinian Authority, "when anarchy and lawlessness" prevailed in Gaza, and as such were not even operating in accordance with the law. The minister rejected the radio stations' argument that they should not pay license fees and taxes "because we are part of the resistance against the Israeli occupation." The new measures were needed to end the state of anarchy that had spread to the media and other fields in the Gaza Strip over the past 15 years, he said.