Thursday, December 30, 2010

Detained journalist questions right to freedom of speech for Palestinians

West Bank security forces allegedly held George Canawati for five days after he reported on tensions within Fatah party

Harriet Sherwood in Bethlehem, Wednesday 29 December 2010

"An independent West Bank journalist detained for five days by Palestinian security forces after broadcasting a news item relating to frictions within the ruling Fatah party has questioned the extent to which freedom of speech is permitted by the Palestinian Authority.

George Canawati of Radio Bethlehem was held in an office at the city's general intelligence service headquarters over the Muslim holiday of Eid last month, according to an account he has given to the Guardian. He was provided with a mattress to sleep on, and food, but was given no explanation for his continued detention beyond an initial three-hour interrogation.

Asked if he believed the detention was intended to intimidate him, Canawati responded by twisting his ear between thumb and forefinger. "I didn't make a mistake [in my report]," he said. "I was professional to the true sense of the word. I will never take their pinch of ear into consideration.".....

Shortly after Canawati's report was broadcast, he received a visit from the intelligence services. He was told to close down the radio station, and to accompany the official for questioning. "I was told it would be for 10 minutes. It took me five days," he said.....

"I'm not confident any more that we have freedom of speech. Our prime minister [Salam Fayyad] is always preaching that the sky's the limit for freedom for journalists. From what happened to me, my experience, that is a false slogan. I really believed it until this happened."....

Independent Palestinian journalists come under pressure from both the PA and the Israeli authorities, said Canawati. "I don't want freedom just in slogans. I want to be free to criticise politicians."

After his release he held a meeting of Radio Bethlehem's staff. "I told them what happened would not affect what we broadcast. The detention has made me stronger."

Earlier this month 12 local radio and TV stations in the West Bank were closed by the PA for failing to properly apply and pay fees for new licences, according to the news website Ma'an. The Palestinian journalists' union said the closures were imposed without warning."

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