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Tuesday, November 13, 2012
European watchdog concerned by PA pressure on journalists

European watchdog 'concerned' by PA pressure on journalists
Published 13 November 2012 19:38
http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=533292

RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- A European press freedom group said Monday it was
concerned about the Palestinian Authority's steps to put pressure on a
columnist who criticized President Mahmoud Abbas' office.

The Vienna-based International Press Institute said it was joining
Palestinian journalists who have raised concerns about the PA's treatment of
Jihad Harb after he questioned hiring practices at Abbas' office.

Harb's article, published by Ma'an and other Palestinian news sites in
August, was based on a report by the Palestinian chapter of Transparency
International and included his criticisms.

"Reports that Jihad Harb has been interrogated and now faces possible
prosecution for raising questions about official corruption are deeply
worrying, and even more so because Harb was simply referencing the work of a
transparency watchdog," said IPI press freedom manager Barbara Trionfi.

"Media play an integral role in informing the public and questioning
government practices. Harb’s article, which summarized the findings of an
NGO and added comment, appears to have done exactly that."

In late October Harb was summoned by the public prosecutor after a complaint
was filed by the president's office, according to Mada, the Palestinian
Center for Development and Media Freedoms.

He is accused of a "direct insult to the employees in the Office of the
President," Mada says.

Harb told Ma'an the lawsuit was baseless and aimed at intimidating
Palestinian journalists.

"All senior officials in the presidency, including the advisers, are
assuming public positions and should be accountable to the taxpayers," Harb
said in an email defending his criticism.

"Prosecuting Palestinian writers and journalists falls under a campaign
aiming to suppress freedoms and exert pressure on writers and journalists in
order to stop addressing public affairs in Palestinian journalism," he said.

Meanwhile the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate says it is following Harb's
case and that of Tawfik Abu Khousa, who was similarly interrogated after a
lawsuit was filed by a top Fatah official.

Nabil Shaath filed a complaint against Abu Khousa over three articles he
wrote in October.

Both journalists have been free as the public prosecutor considers the
lawsuits.

The journalists syndicate said that regardless of the outcome, it supported
the journalists' right to freedom of speech and emphasized the importance of
a free press.

Israeli raids

The IPI statement on Monday also criticized Israel's raid on a TV station in
February.

Watan TV was the target of a raid by Israeli soldiers who seized a
transmitter and other equipment as well as documents. The station has
challenged the raid in Israeli courts, but the army has not responded.

“The IDF’s unwillingness to provide reasonable explanations for the raids it
carried out on media houses this year has been disappointing and
unacceptable," said Trionfi of IPI.

"The IDF should provide a transparent response to the High Court’s request
and we look forward to a decision by the Court that will uphold the rights
of Palestinian media."

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