PA again stifling critical journalists, bloggers

Ongoing campaign comes despite promises by PA to stop arresting, harassing those posting critical Facebook comments.

PA Police 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
PA Police 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
After a two-week lull, the Palestinian Authority has resumed its crackdown on Palestinian journalists and bloggers in the West Bank.
The clampdown, which began three months ago, has targeted journalists and bloggers who reported on corruption cases in PA institutions or posted censorious comments on Facebook.
The ongoing campaign comes despite promises by PA leaders to stop arresting and harassing Palestinian journalists and bloggers, especially those commenting on Facebook.
At least nine journalists and bloggers have been arrested or interrogated by various branches of the PA security forces. The PA has also blocked a number of news websites belonging to Palestinians who are critical of President Mahmoud Abbas.
On Tuesday, the Palestinian General Intelligence Service detained Shadi Zamara, a 27- year-old journalist and blogger, and questioned him about his work and comments he had posted on Facebook.
Zamara said he received a phone call from a man who identified himself as an officer for the General Intelligence Service, asking him to report for questioning.
“When I went there, I was interrogated about my journalistic work and activities on Facebook,” Zamara said. “The interrogation focused mainly on articles I had published and [those] which included criticism of the Palestinian Authority.”
After two and a half hours of questioning, Zamara was released and told to report back for further interrogation next week.
But half an hour after he left the service’s offices, he received another phone call asking him to return immediately for questioning.
“When I arrived, they put me inside a room and closed the door,” Zamara recounted in a statement to the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom.
“I started shouting, demanding that they release me. I told them that I came voluntarily and there was no need for this kind of treatment.
Then one of the interrogators entered the room and demanded to know why my case was already on Facebook.”
Zamara told the interrogator that because he was a journalist, he saw there was a need to inform the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and the PA’s Government Press Office of the decision to summon him for questioning.
“I believe that there is a campaign against journalists and that the Palestinian Authority is following all of our activities,” he said. “This is a clear violation of freedom of media.”
In a related development, 88 percent of Palestinians believe that the recent arrests of journalists and bloggers in the West Bank is unjustified, a public opinion poll published on Wednesday showed.
The poll, which was conducted by the independent Ramallah- based research center AWRAD, covered some 1,200 Palestinians and had a margin of error of plus/minus 3 percentage points.
More than 60% of respondents in the Gaza Strip and 27% in the West Bank believe freedom of speech has diminished compared to 10 years ago, the poll found.
An overwhelming majority of Palestinians, about 80%, said that both Palestinian governments were censoring freedom of expression, the survey showed.
According to the results, 84% of Palestinians support holding immediate elections in the Palestinian territories, and 55% are in favor of the resumption of peace talks with Israel.