Gaza: Journalist facing prison term for exposing corruption in Hamas-controlled ministry
An investigative journalist who published a report revealing corruption within the ministry of health in Gaza is facing up to six months in jail, said Amnesty International, ahead of her appeal hearing tomorrow.
Hajar Harb, a Palestinian journalist from Gaza, released an investigative report on al-Araby TV on 25 June 2016 highlighting that the ministry, which is run by the Hamas de-facto administration, was profiting by arranging illegal medical transfers out of the Gaza Strip for people who did not need treatment. She has been charged with a series of offences including defamation and the publication of false news.
“The prosecution of Hajar Harb is an outrageous assault on media freedom. The authorities in Gaza are blatantly seeking to punish her for exposing corruption within the Hamas administration. The authorities must drop all the charges against her immediately,” said Saleh Higazi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“It is deeply alarming that Hajar Harb is facing six months in jail simply for doing her job. If her conviction on trumped up charges is upheld it would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Gaza.”
After the report was broadcast, Hajar Harb was summoned for police interrogation at least four times during June and July 2016. Each interrogation session lasted between three and four hours. During these sessions she described to Amnesty International how she was verbally abused and “treated as a criminal not a journalist that made an investigative report that is very important to this country.”
She also told Amnesty International that she was verbally harassed and received threats from a number of doctors in Gaza, even though none of their names, faces or job titles were featured in the report.
“I was cursed with bad words, threatened with physical harm and even accused of being a collaborator with Israel by spreading rumours on Facebook by some doctors in Gaza,” she told Amnesty International.
Two doctors filed a complaint against her and in October 2016 she was charged with the publication of false news, defamation, causing strife, and being an imposter.
Hajar Harb was tried in her absence, while she was in Jordan receiving treatment for breast cancer. On 4 June 2017 she was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 1,000 ILS (276 USD). She appealed against the court’s decision.
“I sometimes question myself and say, what have I done? I’m paying the price of doing an investigative piece about corruption in Gaza. How is this fair?’’ Hajar Harb told Amnesty International, explaining that she has had problems with other employers since the report was published.
As political in-fighting between Fatah and Hamas continues, authorities in the West Bank and Gaza have used threats and intimidation against activists and journalists to suppress peaceful expression, including reporting and criticism.
“Palestinian journalists should be able to carry out their work free from threats, harassment or intimidation,” said Saleh Higazi.
“Instead of trying to suppress the work of the media, the authorities in the West Bank and Gaza should be working to protect the right to freedom of expression and hold those who threaten, intimidate and harass journalists accountable.”
According to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, a Ramallah-based NGO, in 2018 the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank were responsible for 77 attacks on media freedom during the year. These included arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment during interrogation, confiscation of equipment, physical assaults and bans on reporting. The Hamas authorities in Gaza were responsible for 37 such attacks.
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