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PCHR Calls for an Immediate Investigation into the Attacks on Journalists and Demonstrators in Gaza
PCHR strongly condemns the attacks perpetrated by the Executive Force yesterday against journalists covering a peaceful demonstration organized by Fatah supporters in Gaza City. The Executive Force dispersed the demonstration by force. The Centre reiterates its call to the dismissed government in Gaza and to the Executive Force to respect human rights, especially the rights of freedom of expression, freedom of journalism, and right to peaceful assembly, which are protected by the Palestinian Basic Law and International Human Rights Law.

The Center’s preliminary investigation indicates that thousands of Fatah supporters held Friday prayers on 24 August 2007 in the “Unknown Soldier” Park in Gaza City to protest what they described as the “incitement and politicization of Friday Sermons in Mosques.” After the end of prayers at about 13:30, a demonstration consisting of thousands of Fatah supporters headed towards Palestine Square. When the demonstration reached Gaza Central Prison, some youth threw rocks at Executive Force members deployed in the area. Some of the demonstrators tried to prevent the youth from throwing rocks; and the demonstration headed away from the prison towards Jala Street. However, the Executive Force fired heavily in the air, and dispersed the demonstration by force, attacking some demonstrators in the process. In addition, members of the Force attacked journalists covering the prayer and demonstration, and tried to prevent them from doing their work by confiscating their cameras. Four journalists were detained by the Executive Force and taken to Gaza Central Prison:

- Khaled Bolbol from Palestine TV.

- Mustafa El-Bayed from Russian TV.

- Mohammad El-Baba from AFP.

- Ibrahim Dahman from French TV.

The journalists were held for one hour before their release.

Khaled Bolbol informed PCHR’s fieldworker that Hamas supporters near Abu Khadra Mosque, close to Gaza Central Prison, beat and cursed him after learning that he worked for Palestine TV. He said that 4 members of the Executive Force traveling in a jeep detained him and took him to Gaza Central Prison. He stated that they beat him all over his body on the way to the prison.

Mustafa El-Bayed stated that he was near Gaza Central Prison with Mohammad El-Baba and Ibrahim Dahman, and were covering the attacks by the Executive Force on the demonstrators and journalists after stones were thrown at them. He said that the Force members chased them. The 3 journalists tried to flee; but a car intercepted them; and 4 civilian-clothed persons detained them and took them to Gaza Central Prison. El-Bayed’s camera was damaged on the way to the prison.

Abed Rabbo Shana’a, a photographer from Reuters, gave the following testimony to PCHR, “I was doing my job and covering the events near Gaza Central Prison and the attacks by the Executive Force on journalists. I tried to leave the place quietly. However, four members of the Force saw me.
They ordered me to stop at gunpoint. One of them put his palm to the camera lens; and the others tried to confiscate the camera and tape. I asked them to sort this out in our office, but to no avail. I argued with them; and the correspondent of Al-Jazeera, Wa’el El-Dahdouh, tried to intervene. They started firing in the air to force me to surrender the camera. I managed to escape.”

Wa’el El-Dahdouh, Al-Jazeera Correspondent, gave the following statement to PCHR, “I saw members of the Executive Force chasing the photographer Abed Rabbo Shana’a. The caught him. I got out of the car from which I was covering the events. I tried to intervene and told the Force members that Shan’a was a journalist; and that the issue can be resolved in the office. However they refused. I told them to call the Executive Force press office; but they did not respond. They were determined to confiscate Shana’a’s camera. The raised their guns and fired in the air, causing Shana’a to flee without the Force confiscating the camera.”  

As soon as news of the journalists’ detention was broadcast on Palestine TV, some of the detained journalists stated that the Executive Force Commander in Gaza Central Prison offered to have Al-Aqsa TV, which is pro-Hamas, to broadcast a denial of their detention. However the journalists refused.

PCHR is concerned over the recurrence of attacks on freedom of expression, freedom of journalism, and the right to peaceful assembly, and:

- Affirms that the right to peaceful assembly, including demonstrations, is protected by the Palestinian Basic Law and the Law of General Assemblies No. 12 for the Year 1998, conditional that these assemblies are peaceful.

- Calls for investigating the attacks on journalists and detaining 4 of them and preventing them from doing their work; and calls for taking legal action against the perpetrators.

- Affirms the need to provide protection to journalists and media outlets, and to take the necessary steps to ensure their freedom in conducting their work. 
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