Freedom of Expression? Not for Palestinians
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In another story the Western media apparently refuses to cover, any Palestinian who dares to criticize Hamas or the Palestinian Authority risks being arrested or summoned for interrogation.
Palestinian journalists are now hoping to bring this to the attention of President Barack Obama when he meets with President Mahmoud Abbas next month.
The journalists say they want United States and the rest of the world to know that the crackdown on freedom of expression in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip is designed to hide the fact that Palestinians are governed by two repressive regimes that have no respect for human rights and democracy.
Over the past few weeks, several Palestinian journalists have been arrested in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for reportedly criticizing the policies and leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
But this most recent assault on freedom of expression does not seem to bother the Western countries that fund the Palestinian Authority or Hamas supporters from all around the world.
As far as many Western governments and journalists are concerned, physical assaults on Palestinian reporters in the Gaza Strip are fine as long as they are not perpetrated by Israel.
The Palestinian Authority crackdown on Palestinian journalists in the West Bank is also fine as long as Israel is not involved.
Most of the assaults against journalists took place in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas continues to display zero tolerance towards critics or anyone who dares to say something "controversial."
In the past few weeks, at least 16 journalists from the Gaza Strip were arrested or summoned for interrogation by Hamas authorities in the context of a campaign aimed at intimidating the local media.
Some of the journalists were released only after Hamas forced them to sign a document stating that they would refrain from attending press conferences or covering various activities unless they obtained permission in advance.
The Hamas authorities have also raided the homes of several journalists, confiscating their computers and notebooks.
In some instances, Hamas's security forces have forced journalists to provide them with their passwords and usernames in order to check their emails.
Following is a list of the names of journalists from the Gaza Strip who have been arrested or interrogated by Hamas in recent weeks: Ashraf Abu Khwaisan, Ala Dawaheed, Amru Dawaheed, Munir al-Munairawi, Mustafa Migdad, Majdi Islim, Juma'ah Abu Shomar, Hisham al-Ju'ub, Muayad Assali, Shadi Shaheen, Muhanad al-Kahlout, Esam Madi, Hussein Abdel Jawwad, Abdel Karim Hijji and Yusef Hammad.
Three other journalists, Khaled Thabet, Mohamed Za'anin and Muthana al-Najjar, were beaten by Hamas policemen and thugs while covering various activities in the Gaza Strip.
In the West Bank, the situation has not been any better for Palestinian journalists and political activists.
Just last week, a Palestinian Authority court sentenced 26-year-old Anas Said Awwad to one year in prison for "insulting" President Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook.
Awwad was found guilty of depicting Abbas as a member of the Real Madrid soccer team.
The man was convicted on the basis of a 50-year-old Jordanian law that bans "extending one's tongue" against the Jordanian monarch.
The Palestinian Authority often uses this law to punish anyone who posts comments against Abbas or other leaders in Ramallah.
This was not the first time that the Palestinian Authority goes after Palestinians who use Facebook to express their views.
At least three other Palestinians, Nizar Banat, Mamdouh Hamamreh and Jihad Harb have been targeted by Abbas's security forces for posting critical comments on Facebook.
Over the past week, Palestinian Authority security forces also arrested two journalists, Ala al-Titi and Mohamed Awad.
Safad Nazzal, a Palestinian female activist who criticized the Palestinian Authority for failing to pay more attention to the case of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, has also been arrested by Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank.
It now remains to be seen whether Obama and other Western leaders and government officials, as well as human rights groups, will pay attention to the ongoing attempt to silence Palestinian journalists and political activists. Failure to do so will only encourage Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to continue their assaults on freedom of expression.
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