163 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: West Bank: 5,655 sq. km. ; Gaza Strip: 365 sq. km.2
Population: 3,800,000 (2,400,000 on the West Bank, 1,400,000 in Gaza)
Head of state: Mahmud Abbas, since January 2005
Since Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip in June 2007, journalists have been trapped in the middle of a power struggle between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian Territories.
Since June 2007, the media has been split in two between those close to the Palestinian Authority and those linked to Hamas - suffering the same threats and physical assaults on each side. Journalists with links to Hamas are summoned, questioned and arrested on the West Bank by the security forces of the Palestinian Authority, while pro-Fatah journalists are regularly threatened by Hamas police. The year 2008 saw an unprecedented upsurge in press freedom violations. The very tense political situation made work very difficult for journalists not wishing to adopt a fiercely partisan line.
Once Hamas took power in Gaza, the Palestinian Journalists’ Union’s Gaza branch was dissolved. The Hamas government then imposed a new system of accreditation for all telecommunications and Internet companies as well as for the broadcast media and news agencies based there.
The 1996 law providing for prison sentences for publishing news that could threaten “national unity” is in force in Gaza. Hamas has therefore been looking for legal means allowing it to ban media openly too close to the Palestinian Authority. Further, journalists who condemn Hamas policy have been targeted for intimidation, physical assault, unfair arrest and abusive imprisonment. Security services of the Hamas interior ministry arrested 13 journalists during 2008, chiefly to question them about their links with Fatah and the “Ramallah government”.
Editor of the daily Palestine, Mustafa Sawwaf, narrowly escaped a murder attempt on 19 June 2008. The premises of the public Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation were closed. Distribution of newspapers affiliated to Fatah, al-Hayat al-Jadida and al-Ayyam was banned. Coverage of numbers of events was also banned. However al-Ayyam was allowed to be distributed again from 12 February 2009.
These coercive measures used by Hamas have forced Palestinian journalists into self-censorship and contributed to delaying the return of foreign correspondents who had deserted the Gaza Strip after the kidnapping of British journalist Alan Johnston on 12 March 2007.
During and after the Israeli military operation “Cast Lead” from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, the Hamas government maintained its tight grip on the media in Gaza, putting freedom of the press at risk.
On the West Bank, the security forces of the Palestinian Authority have made many unfair arrests of journalists close to Hamas. In 2008 alone, 32 journalists were arrested there by preventive security or the intelligence services and questioned about their work, their media’s source of income, and their relations with officials in the Hamas government. Mustafa Sabri was arrested and questioned in this way by the intelligence services in Qalquiliya on 31 July 2008 after he posted an article online on 27 July headlined, “How I was humiliated at Intelligence HQ in Qaliqiliya”, in which he described his first arrest. On 6 December 2008, he escaped a murder attempt. Journalists and other media workers have also been prevented from covering certain events.
Arrests of journalists have become a means of score settling and nobody is safe. Negotiations opened with a view to forming a government of national unity have not appeared to calm things down on the ground.