Dozens of Palestinian journalists rallied outside a United Nations building in Ramallah on Monday to demand press freedom following violent clashes with Palestinian security forces sparked by an activist’s death in custody.
Nizar Banat, a 43-year-old from Hebron known for social media videos deploring alleged corruption within the Palestinian Authority (PA), died last week shortly after security forces stormed his home and violently arrested him, his family said.
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Days of clashes between protesters and police have left several journalists injured.
Reporters Without Borders said on Monday that 12 Palestinian journalists, including five women, had been assaulted by Palestinian police during weekend unrest in the occupied West Bank.
Naila Khalil, a reporter with The New Arab media outlet, said Palestinian reporters had submitted a letter to the UN urging the world body “to take necessary and immediate measures” to protect media freedom.
Mohammed Gharafi of the Ultra Palestine news site said he had been harassed by Palestinian security forces who threatened to confiscate his phone if he did not stop filming the protests.
Separately, human rights groups in Ramallah announced on Monday the formation of a legal team to follow up on the attacks on journalists.
In a press conference, the director general of the Independent Commission for Human Rights Ammar al-Dwaik said several human rights organisations have taken testimonies from male and female journalists who were attacked while covering the demonstrations in Ramallah during the past few days.
“Journalists were deliberately targeted – especially women journalists in the field – through assault, hijacking of cameras, or theft of communication devices,” al-Dwaik said.
He described the events as “very worrying” and ones that prevent journalists from fulfilling their role.
On Sunday, a number of journalists cut up their press cards in protest at the syndicate’s silence regarding the attacks against them.
فش داعي الها…
نقابة لا تحمي الصحفي الفلسطيني، لا يمكن الاستمرار بها.. pic.twitter.com/aoUudw4143
— Muath Hamed (@MuathHamed) June 27, 2021
Translation: There’s no reason for it. There’s no use in continuing to be part of a syndicate that does not protect its journalists.
One journalist, Fayhaa Khanfar, was summoned by the PA’s general intelligence for interrogation on Monday.
Khanfar was one of the female journalists that was violently assaulted in the Ramallah protests, and told local media how plainclothes security forces were throwing rocks and empty bottles at reporters, in addition to snatching or breaking their cameras and phones.
“One of the soldiers in civilian clothes attacked me while I was standing in a side street,” she said.
“He tried to take my phone by force while yelling at me, and he dragged me to the main street and threw me to the ground.”
Investigation into Banat’s death
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday that those responsible for Banat’s death “will be held accountable”, according to the official WAFA news agency.
According to an autopsy, Banat had been beaten on the head, chest, neck, legs and hands, with less than an hour elapsing between his arrest and his death.
Banat had registered as a candidate in Palestinian parliamentary elections, which had been set for May until Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas postponed them indefinitely.
In a press conference held on Monday, Banat’s family announced their rejection of the investigation committee set up by the Palestinian Authority.
“The investigation committee set up by the government is not recognised, and what is built upon deceit is incorrect,” Banat’s father Khalil said.
“Nizar was killed after being dragged from his bed, and all the forces which carried out his arrest and murder under the cover of darkness should be brought to a public trial.”