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Defend Press Freedom Amidst Israel’s War on Gaza: World Press Freedom Day 2024

May 02, 2024 IN WIP
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Defend Press Freedom Amidst Israel’s War on Gaza: World Press Freedom Day 2024

“Amid the mounting death toll, destruction, and reports of harrowing atrocities, journalists in Gaza risk their lives and limbs to cover the war. Deliberately targeting journalists, and indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure journalists, amount to war crimes. All those responsible must be held to account. Protecting press freedom and ensuring the safety of journalists is fundamental during times of war and essential in providing the public with accurate and timely information.” Burhan Sonmez, PEN International President

 

It has been over six months since the relentless bombardment of Gaza by Israel’s military began in response to a Hamas-led attack on Israel on 7 October 2023. With damning evidence of international human rights law violations and war crimes, the toll on journalists’ lives and the erosion of press freedom in Gaza and across the region have reached unprecedented levels.

Will you take action?

On World Press Freedom Day, contact your country’s Head of Government/Minister of Foreign Affairs, urging immediate action to protect journalists and ensure unfettered reporting on the war on Gaza. Ask them to:

  • Publicly call on all parties to the conflict to ensure journalists’ safety and to promptly and thoroughly investigate all attacks on journalists.
  • Call on the Israeli authorities to stop the indiscriminate and deliberate killing of journalists.
  • Call on the Israeli and Egyptian authorities to provide international journalists with independent access to Gaza, and ensure the safe departure from Gaza of journalists seeking to evacuate.
  • Support swift, transparent, and independent investigations into the killing of all journalists and an end to the longstanding pattern of impunity in the killings of journalists by the Israeli forces.
  • Publicly call for an immediate ceasefire in order to protect all civilians, including journalists.

 

Read more about press freedom amidst

War, Censorship and Persecution: PEN International Case List 2023/2024 documents how since 7 October, journalists in Gaza and across the region have faced unprecedented hostilities, intimidation, and harassment, posing significant challenges to their reporting and lives.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 97 journalists and media workers have been killed between 7 October 2023 and 25 April 2024: 92 Palestinian, two Israeli, and three Lebanese, marking the deadliest period for journalists on record. In addition, 16 journalists were reported injured, four missing and 25 arrested. CPJ notably raised concerns about an apparent pattern of targeting of journalists and their families by the Israeli military.

In Gaza, Al Jazeera bureau chief Wael Al-Dahdouh was injured in a drone attack in December 2023. Prior, he lost his wife, son, daughter, and grandson in an Israeli airstrike in October. In January 2024, he lost his eldest son, journalist Hamza Al-Dahdouh, along with his colleague  Mustafa Thuraya, in a missile attack on their car in southern Gaza.

In November, Anas al-Sharif, a reporter and videographer for Al-Jazeera Arabic, reported receiving threats via phone from Israeli authorities, instructing him to stop his coverage and leave northern Gaza. In December, his family house was bombed by Israeli planes resulting in the death of his elderly father.

In Lebanon, according to a Reuters investigation, journalist Issam Abdallah was killed, and six others from Al Jazeera, Agence France-Presse, and Reuters were injured by Israeli tank shells in October, despite wearing marked journalists’ attire.

In the West Bank, press freedom organisations reported a spike in arrests and intimidation of Palestinian journalists since 7 October, with many journalists facing arbitrary administrative detention, harassment and intimidation by Israeli forces.

Mustafa Sheta, a researcher, journalist, and producer at the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp, was arrested during a raid on the theatre in December 2023 during which Israeli forces destroyed its offices, and later stormed the houses of three of its members. Israeli soldiers interrogated Sheta about his political activities during his detention. Despite no charges being filed, an Israeli military court ordered his administrative detention for six months on 31 December.

In Israel, Alaraby TV reporter Ahmed Darawsha faced threats from an armed police officer while reporting live from Ashdod in October. On the same day, BBC journalists Muhannad Tutunji and Haitham Abudiab, along with their BBC Arabic team, were assaulted and held at gunpoint by Israeli police in Tel Aviv. Also in October, Israeli journalist Israel Frey was forced  to flee his home and seek refuge after being attacked by an extremist mob for expressing solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and criticizing Israeli authorities’ actions during the conflict.

Since 7 October, Israel has tightened its siege on Gaza preventing international journalists from covering the conflict on the ground. Those allowed access have been embedded with the Israeli military, which severely limits their reporting. These restrictions have significantly curtailed both press freedoms and the public’s access to information.

In February 2024, PEN International welcomed the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures intended to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza, including, among others, preserving evidence of crimes committed in the region, under the Genocide Convention.

Safeguarding journalists is vital both in conflict situations and wars, and in times of peace, as they play a crucial role in providing the public with accurate and timely information, documenting hostilities, and reporting on war crimes and human rights violations. Additionally, journalists are instrumental in upholding independent flow of information, supporting transparency, and holding authorities to account. Urgent measures are required to ensure journalists’ safety and enable unrestricted reporting in Gaza and beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International