The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) strongly condemns the violent dispersal of a sit-in in solidarity with the Syrian people, held in Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza Strip, attacks against participants, and the detention of a number of participants by members of the Palestinian police. PCHR also condemns measures by the police to prevent journalists from doing their job; five journalists were detained by police, and one of them was beaten during the incident.
PCHR demands that the Attorney General open an independent investigation into these attacks, hold the perpetrators accountable, and provide justice for the victims of the attacks.
Additionally, PCHR demands that the government in Gaza take necessary measures to put an end to such violations, and to respect the civil liberties and fundamental freedoms of the citizens of the Gaza Strip, which are guaranteed by the constitution and under international human rights law.
According to investigations conducted by PCHR and the testimonies of victims and eyewitnesses, at approximately 18:00 on Tuesday, 07 May 2013, around 50 civilians participated in a sit-in in solidarity with the Syrian people and in condemnation of the Israeli shelling of Syrian territory.
The sit-in was held in al-Qal’a Square in the centre of Khan Younis and organised by the Arab Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Shortly after the sit-in began, two individuals dressed in civilian clothing arrived at the scene and ordered the participants to disperse.
Shortly afterwards, members of a unit of Palestinian police began to violently disperse the crowd, beating some of the participants with gun butts and clubs. Police detained 5 of the participants and took them to the Office of the Prosecutor in Khan Younis City; they were released an hour after they were detained.
During the same incident, members of Palestinian police prevented journalists, who were covering the sit-in, from carrying out their work and forced them to leave the scene.
As the journalists were leaving the area, they were followed by members of police, who detained 5 of them and confiscated their equipment. One of the journalists was beaten, and his camera was destroyed.
The journalists were taken to the Office of the Prosecutor and later released. The detained journalists were identified as:
1- Ahmed Ghanam, cameraman for Mayadeen News Channel;
2- Abdul-Aziz al-‘Afify, photojournalist for Screen Media Production. He was beaten and his camera was destroyed;
3- Mohammed Abu-Taha, reporter for Palestine Satellite Channel;
4- ‘Odi Abu-Shahma, boom operator for Screen Media Production; and
5- Iyad al-Baba, photojournalist for the APA Media Company.
The Ministry of Interior Affairs published a press release on Tuesday evening that stated: ”The Ministry of Interior’s Information Office apologizes for the actions of a number of members of the Palestinian police this evening, who used rough treatment against a number of journalists while covering an activity in Khan Younis governorate, in the south of the Gaza Strip.
The Information Office has followed the situation from the beginning and addressed it immediately […] the Office continues to follow the events to ensure that the incident will not be repeated, that the perpetrators will be held accountable, and that the journalists will receive justice.’
In this context, PCHR emphasizes the following:
1- The right to peaceful assembly is constitutionally guaranteed according to Article 26(5) of the Palestinian Basic Law and the Palestinian Public Meetings Law No. 12 of 1998;
2- Article 27 of the Palestinian Basic Law guarantees public freedoms and the freedom of the press in the Palestinian Authority, and Article 19 of the Palestinian Basic Law guarantees the right to the freedom of opinion and expression; and
3- Attacks by the Palestinian police against civilians and the detention of participants in a peaceful public event without a court order constitutes a violation of the personal and public freedoms of civilians, according to Article 32 of the Palestinian Basic Law, and is considered a crime for which there is no statute of limitations to file a civil or criminal complaint.
Based on the above, PCHR:
1- Calls upon the Attorney General to open an independent investigation into these attacks, prosecute the perpetrators and provide justice for the victims; and
2- Calls upon the government in the Gaza Strip to take necessary measures to put an end to such violations, to respect the civil liberties and fundamental freedoms of citizens of the Gaza Strip, as well as the freedom of the press, which are guaranteed by the constitutional and under international human rights law.