Palestinian editor freed after 11 hours

Kidnappers of Hafez Asakreh, a Ma'an journalist, demanded that he publish "unfounded stories."

masked gunmen 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
masked gunmen 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
A Palestinian journalist working for the independent Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency was kidnapped late Saturday night by five masked gunmen and held for 11 hours. Hafez Asakreh, who is one of the editors at the news agency, was on his way to work when he was abducted by the gunmen, who forced him into their vehicle and drove to an unknown destination. He was later released unharmed. According to Nasser Lahham, editor-in-chief of Ma'an, the kidnappers demanded that the journalist publish a number of stories related to security and political affairs in the Palestinian territories. "They wanted us to publish unfounded stories," he explained without elaborating. "They wanted to get us into trouble with other Palestinian factions and the Palestinian Authority security forces." He said Ma'an was facing a "despicable conspiracy" and expressed hope that the PA security forces would manage to capture the culprits. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate strongly condemned the abduction of Asakreh, noting that Palestinian journalists have been facing a fierce campaign of intimidation. Calling on the PA leadership to launch an investigation into the latest incident, the syndicate also urged human rights organizations around the world to expose the plight of Palestinian journalists. Earlier this month, PA security forces in the West Bank arrested Ma'an journalist, Mu'taz al-Kurdi, who is also the owner of a TV station in Hebron, for broadcasting a press conference with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Kurdi was summoned by PA security officials for questioning after the station carried live coverage of Haniyeh's press conference last Sunday in Gaza City. The arrest of the journalist and the closure of the TV station sparked fierce protests from Palestinian journalists, who accused Abbas's security forces of waging a campaign of intimidation against them. Several Palestinian journalists and media organizations have been targeted by Fatah's security forces in the West Bank over the past few months. Most of them were accused of membership in Hamas. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas has also been targeting journalists, especially those affiliated with Fatah. The Islamist movement has also banned journalists who don't hold Hamas-issued press cards from operating in the Gaza Strip. Kurdi, who was released 24 hours later, was the third journalist to be arrested by the Fatah-controlled security forces. The other two, Ala al-Titi and Assid Amarneh, were released Sunday after being held in detention for the past 30 days. The two, according to PA security officials, were suspected of membership in Hamas.