SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Freedom of Expression Violations in the Levant - May 2021

Saturday , 03 July 2021

Two journalists were killed and six others were injured during the Israeli military attack on the Gaza Strip in May 2021. The military jets also bombed 20 media offices, four publishing houses, four bookshops, a printing company, 16 homes and three cars of media professionals. In the West Bank, the Israeli forces attacked journalists with live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets, teargas and stun grenades, injuring 21 media professionals. They also beat two others and arrested a third. In the 1948 Territories, the police attacked 21 media professionals, beat 17 others and arrested seven artists and a filmmaker. Moreover, a journalist was prevented from covering the events and the Intelligence Service interrogated a filmmaker. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Preventive Security banned a photographer from covering developments and questioned a filmmaker; a reporter was also dismissed. On the other hand, the Hamas government banned any cooperation with a media channel; WhatsApp blocked the accounts of dozens of journalists, while YouTube added age restriction to two channels’ live stream and a website was hacked. A correspondent and a photographer were beaten in Lebanon, while an activist was arrested, an artist and an actress summoned and a song blocked on YouTube. In Jordan, the Amman court sentenced a journalist to prison and arrested a website publisher, while an activist was arrested in Syria and a website blocked.

Below is a detailed summary of the violations monitored by the SKeyes Center in the four countries.

The Gaza Strip witnessed bloodshed as a result of the brutal Israeli bombing campaign. Freelance journalist Rima Saad (05/11) and Sawt Al-Aqsa radio host Youssef Abou Hussein (05/19) were killed after Israeli warplanes raided their homes. Also, several media professionals were injured while covering the Israeli offensive on Gaza: journalists Mahmoud Alloh (05/11), Ihab Fasfus (05/12), Abdul-Hamid Abdul-Ati (05/12) and Alaa Salameh (05/12), as well as photographers Mohammad Dahlan (05/19) and Hatem Omar (05/20). The Israeli forces also destroyed 20 local, Arab and foreign media outlets, including Al-Jazeera channel, the Associated Press, the Felesteen newspaper, Alkofiya TV and the Al-Hayat Al-Jadida daily. The] shelling also resulted in the partial or total destruction of 16 homes belonging to journalists and writers in different parts of the Gaza Strip. Also, three cars of media professionals, four bookshops, four publishing houses and a printing company were destroyed (from 05/11 and 05/20).

Also in May, WhatsApp blocked the accounts of dozens of journalists and photographers under the pretext of violating the company’s policies or even without giving any reason (05/20). YouTube added age restriction to Al-Jazeera and Al-Ghad channels for several hours, the Hamas-affiliated Ministry of the Interior issued a decision to ban cooperation with Al-Arabiya channel and unknown people claimed to work for Al-Mayadeen to gather information about Gaza residents (05/19). The Shms News website was hacked and had to stop operating for several hours (05/13).

In the West Bank, the Israeli forces attacked Palestinian journalists and photographers with live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets, teargas and stun grenades. Reporters Amid Shehadeh (05/05), Abdallah Bahech (05/05 and 05/07), Motasem Saqf Al-Heit (05/05, 05/10 and 05/14), Bakr Abdul-Haq, Mohammad Turkman, Karim Khamayseh, Ali Smoudi (05/07) and Khalil Abu Arab (05/14) were injured, as well as photographers Mahmoud Khallaf (05/05), Hisham Abou Chakra (05/05 and 05/14), Jihad Al-Qaq, Raneen Sawafteh, Sakhr Zwatyeh, Alaa Badarneh (05/07), Shadi Jraraah (05/07 and 05/14), Omair Staitieh, Jaafar Ashtiyeh, Samer Habash, Issam Al-Rimawi (05/14), Ahmad Al-Arouri (05/14 and 05/15), and Jamal Rayan (05/18). Smoudi and Badarneh were also beaten (05/07) while covering the clashes between Israeli soldiers and young Palestinians in different parts of the West Bank. Photographer Hazem Nasser was arrested at the Annab military checkpoint (05/12).

Internally, the Palestinian Preventive Security questioned filmmaker Abdul-Rahman Daher over Facebook posts (05/18) and prevented photographer Ahmad Al-Khatib from covering the events in Jenin (05/30). AFP dismissed its West Bank correspondent Nasser Abou Bakr for “purely professional” reasons (05/10).

In the 1948 Territories, the Israeli forces attacked Palestinian journalists and photographers, especially those covering the protests in Sheikh Jarrah, Umm Al-Fahm and Al-Aqsa mosque, with teargas, stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets. Several were injured: photographers Saleh Al-Zighari (05/05 and 05/07), Mustafa Al-Kharouf (05/07 and 05/10), Baraa’ Abou Rammouz, Ata Awaissat, Abdul-Afu Zghayar, Ibrahim Al-Sinjlawi (05/07), Rajai Al-Khatib (05/09), Majd Daniel, Saher Ghazzawi, Ithar Abou Gharibeh, Rami Al-Khatib, Assaad Frat (05/10), Ahmad Al-Sharif (05/14 and 05/18) and Fayez Abou Rmeileh (05/07 and 05/10), as well as journalists Ghassan Abu Eid, Ziad Charabati (05/04), Turgat Alp (05/07 and 05/10), Rimah Moufid, Ahmad Jradat (05/10), Anas Ighbariyah, Malak Hassan (05/12),Yanal Jabbareen, Abdallah Qadmani (05/15), Maysa Abou Ghazaleh (05/04 and 05/10) and Latifa Abdul-Latif, along with producer Rama Yousef (05/18). They also arrested reporters Ahmad Al-Safadi (05/08), Rassem Obeidat, Ahmad Azayreh (05/12), Rashad Al-Omri (05/15) and Zeina Halwani (05/27) but also photographer Wehbe Makye (05/27), journalist Majd Kayal (05/09), artist Wala’ Sbeit (05/13) and filmmaker Alaa Dayeh (05/31). They were later released but 14 of them were also beaten, along with photographers Ahmad Gharableh, Karim Khodor and Nasser Ata (05/21), while freelance journalist Nawal Hijazi was banned twice from entering Sheikh Jarrah (05/16 and 05/21).

Also, correspondent Elias Karam was injured while covering the bombing of Ashkelon, the intelligence services questioned artist Moin Al-Assam over a song (05/26), and settlers sabotaged a mural, painted on a wall in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and showing a map of Palestine (05/24).

In Lebanon, young Syrians attacked MTV reporter Charbel Saadeh and cameraman Rawad Germanos who were covering a march in support of the re-election of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Zouk (05/20). Also, the Information Department arrested activist Charbel Razzouk who hung a banner calling out Lebanon’s top prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oueidat (05/25), while the Anti-Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Rights Bureau summoned stand-up comedian Shaden Esperanza over a video (05/07) and artist Semaan Khawam who refused to show up (05/24).

YouTube blocked a song by Lebanese band Al-Rahel Al-Kabir for hours under the pretext that its content was “inappropriate” (05/23) and lawyer Ghassan Al-Mawla filed a complaint against journalist Hanin Ghaddar before the military prosecutor for “communicating with the enemy” (05/05). The Publications Court postponed journalist Riad Kobaissi’s trial until January 2022 (05/20).

In Syria, the government blocked the access to the Syrian Pound Today website (05/18), while Tahrir Al-Sham militant group punctured citizen journalist Omar Hajj Kaddour’s press card in Idlib (05/07) and arrested citizen journalist Mohammad Al-Debel and his brother in the Idlib countryside (05/07).

In Jordan, the Amman court sentenced journalist Sawsan Mubaideen to three months in prison over a post where she criticised the results of the parliamentary elections (05/01). The court also decided to arrest the Balki News website publisher Fadi Al-Amro for a week (05/03); the Public Prosecutor agreed to release him on bail the next day.

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