Palestinian forces abuse West Bank, Gaza reporters - HRW
GAZA/RAMALLAH, West Bank |
GAZA/RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian journalists are abused with impunity by the security services of West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas and his Islamist rivals Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
A 35-page report by the monitoring group cited reporters' charges of beatings, arbitrary arrests and equipment seizures by government enforcers -- carried out against the backdrop of inter-factional feuding in the divided Palestinian territories.
"Palestinian security forces are becoming notorious for assaulting and intimidating journalists who are just trying to do their jobs," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch.
"The people who have been responsible or allegedly responsible for carrying out these violations and these abuses, they face no consequences," he told a news conference.
"When you have case after case ... where the problem is not addressed, we have to talk about an apparent policy."
The allegations drew denials from Abbas's Palestinian Authority and Hamas's administration, along with remonstrations that Human Rights Watch had not sought their formal "case by case" accounts of the seven incidents detailed in the report.
Hamas security forces have repeatedly violated the rights of journalists covering rallies for reconciliation with Abbas's secular and U.S.-aligned Fatah faction, Human Rights Watch said.
A group of armed men who said they worked for Hamas attacked Reuters' office in Gaza last month, hurting two employees and smashing a video camera and tripod. A Hamas official later apologised and said the men had not been acting on orders.
Human Rights Watch said Palestinian Authority forces had targeted media the PA regarded as favouring Hamas or being critical of the West Bank administration.
The charge was especially touchy for the Palestinian Authority, whose security apparatus is trained and bankrolled by Western powers in a bid to roll back Israeli occupation and prepare ground for peacemaking. Hamas, which spurns the Jewish state, is shunned by the United States and the European Union.
"Freedom of speech is governed by law. We do not arrest people based on their profession, but based on information that has to do with security crimes," said Adnan Damiri, spokesman for Palestinian security forces in the West Bank.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri dismissed some of Human Rights Watch's allegations as "general and inaccurate" and urged donors to stop underwriting Abbas's administration "because it is using this money to kill and torture our people."
Human Rights Watch said the Palestinian Authority should be given foreign funding only on condition that it take "effective steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish security officers responsible for serious abuses."
Though five of the incidents alleged in the report took place in the West Bank, Stork said this did not indicate abuses were more common there than in Gaza.
He said Israel's clampdown on crossings to Gaza had impeded the work of Human Rights Watch there whereas access to the West Bank was relatively unfettered.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah; editing by Dan Williams)
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