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Court extends detention of Palestinian journalists

Six journalists arrested for "leaking information to hostile parties", but rights group say it's curb on free speech.

Palestinian journalists

A Palestinian court on Thursday extended the detention of six journalists by several days, a member of the Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate said.

Omar Nazzal, a member of the Journalists' Syndicate in the occupied West Bank, said the public attorney's office was preparing an indictment against the six journalists for breaching a controversial Electronic Crimes law passed recently.

"The six journalists are being accused of breaching Article 20 of the Electronic Crimes law," Nazzal said, referring to the clause that prohibits the dissemination of news that endangers the internal or external security of the state.

They were arrested by Palestinian Authority security forces in the occupied West Bank late on Tuesday evening.

Amer Abu Arafeh, Qutaiba Qasem, Mamdouh Hamamreh, Ahmad Halaiqa, Islam Za'al and Tarek Abu Zeid remain under custody in various cities in the Palestinian territories.

Some of the journalists are freelancers, while Abu Zaid and Abu Arafeh work with the Al-Aqsa TV and Al-Quds channel respectively, which are considered close to Hamas.

Ala Freijat, a lawyer with the Palestinian journalists' syndicate, has called the arrests "illegal".

"The detention process is illegal because it violates a special agreement between the Palestinian journalists' syndicate and the Palestinian public attorney's office," Freijat said.

The agreement, according to Freijat, was put in place last year and stipulates that only the Public Attorney's office can summon journalists, not PA security forces.

"A representative from the Public Attorney's office must also be present during the interrogation," Freijat demanded.

According to Freijat the PA security forces have yet to conduct a formal interrogation with the journalists.

Wafa, the official PA news agency, reported late on Wednesday night that the journalists were detained for "leaking information to hostile parties".

Freijat believes there is no basis for this accusation.

"We reject these arrests...which constitute a serious threat to the freedom of expression," said Nazzal of journalists' syndicate.

Al-Haq, a Palestinian non-government human rights organisation based in Ramallah, also condemned the arrests, and demanded their immediate release.

"We stress again on the need to stop the summoning and arrests of journalists for carrying out their work," Al-Haq said in a statement released on Wednesday.

"The rule of law including the right to freedom of expression must be respected and are guaranteed by the Palestinian law and international conventions."

On Thursday, the Palestinian Media Forum in Gaza City organised a rally in solidarity with the detained journalists.

The Forum said the arrests were of a political nature and had no dimensions related to their journalistic work.

Recently, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedom (MADA) said that violations committed by the PA and Hamas government against journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip respectively was significantly higher in June than the previous months.

Fouad Jaradeh, a Palestinian journalist from Gaza, has been held by Hamas security forces for nearly two months.

Last June, the PA public attorney's office instructed local internet providers to block users access to some 16 rival websites that are generally critical of the President Mahmoud Abbas.

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