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Palestinian journalist released after being detained by PA intelligence for 3 days

July 9, 2017 4:04 P.M. (Updated: July 15, 2017 11:37 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Palestinian Authority (PA) released journalist Jihad Barakat from custody on Sunday, three days after he was detained for filming the Palestinian prime minister’s motorcade passing through an Israeli military checkpoint, which sparked outrage among Palestinians and rights groups.

Barakat, a correspondent for TV channel Palestine Today, was released by the PA’s internal intelligence agency, the Preventive Security Service (PSS), in front of the PSS headquarters in Ramallah.

On Thursday, plainclothes PSS officers in a civilian car had detained Barakat at a Tulkarem-area checkpoint and taken him to the PSS offices in Tulkarem city, according to Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer.

In a statement released Sunday prior to Barakat’s release, Addameer said that all attempts by their attorney to visit Barakat or obtain information about his condition were unsuccessful, and that they had only received official news of Barakat’s location in Ramallah on Saturday.

Addameer’s request to release Barakat on bail was previously denied, and the Palestinian public prosecution extended his detention for an additional 48 hours, but apparently released him a day early.

According to Addameer, Barakat was interrogated six times since the moment of his arrest, three times in Tulkarem and three in Ramallah, and was under great pressure to give the PA access to his telephone and computer. Al-Quds News reported that hours prior to his release, Barakat refused to leave without his phone and laptop.

The Ramallah district attorney decided to release Barakat on bail after the journalist gave a “final testimony” on Sunday, according to initial reports. Barakat was ordered to appear in court on Monday for the case’s final proceedings.

Leading up to his release, protesters were gathered in front of the courthouse in al-Bireh, the municipality directly adjacent to Ramallah. Palestinian journalists also protested in Ramallah on Sunday demanding Barakat’s immediate release and denouncing the PA for its targeting of Palestinian journalists and suppression of dissident voices in the occupied Palestinian territory.

During the protest, Palestine Today director Farouq Elayyan expressed outrage at the unjustified detention, and criticized the PA’s statement regarding the arrest, which had said two Palestinian “youths” were arrested for “violating laws on filming," without mentioning that one of the detainees was Barakat, a well-known journalist who was covering Israeli forces' search of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s motorcade.

Barakat is allegedly well known by the PA, which requests that the journalist covers governmental activities on a regular basis.

Frustrated Palestinians said the detention was only the latest expression of the PA’s aggression against Palestinian journalists -- especially those critical of the PA and it security coordination with Israel.

Many took to social media to mock the PA for trying to suppress the footage of Israeli force's search of Hamdallah out of embarrassment, despite the fact that the scene showed an almost mundane example of the Israeli occupation and the fact that the PA “lacks sovereignty.”

Addameer said it strongly condemned “the frequent arrest and detention of Palestinian journalists by PA security forces, without clear legal grounds for arrest or serious offenses.”

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada) also expressed its “grave concern” over the “the drastically rising number of Palestinian violations and the continuation and escalation of internal violations against media freedoms.”

According to Mada, PSS also continued to hold Al-Aqsa TV photographer Ahmad Fathi al-Khatib since his arrest on July 1.

The group also noted that Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip continued to detain Palestine TV correspondent Fouad Jaradeh who detained on June 6.

Mada highlighted that “the escalating attack” against media freedoms recently peaked with the PA’s decision to block some 29 news sites, all allegedly affiliated to either Hamas or Mahmoud Abbas’ political rival Muhammad Dahlan, which “resulted in a significant increase in Palestinian violations to unprecedented levels in terms of numbers and gravity.”

Mada also said that the surge in violations of media freedoms coincided with the sudden ratification of a new cyber crimes law, on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr last month, which came “without engaging the Palestinian public or even presenting the draft to civil society organizations.”

The NGO demanded that Palestinian authorities immediately release all detained journalists in both the West Bank and Gaza, and called on the PA to freeze the cyber crimes law and refrain from publishing it until after putting a draft forward for public debate.
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