3 May 2017 marks World Press Freedom Day – an annual event that serves to raise awareness about the importance of press freedom, and provides an opportunity to remind decision makers about the duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression – the right guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This day also celebrates the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration – a set of press freedom principles put forward by a group of African print journalists who gathered in Namibia in 1991 at an event organized by UNESCO. The Declaration states that a free press is a basic human right and a cornerstone of every democracy, and as such needs a free, independent and pluralistic environment in which to thrive.
This year, Palestinian journalists mark this day amidst Israel’s continued and systematic violations of their right to free expression. Often faced with threat from arbitrary arrest that include degrading treatment and destruction or confiscation of their equipment, Palestinian journalists are also repeatedly under duress from injury and death. Furthermore, many obstacles are put in front of journalists when they need to obtain permits fundamental for facilitation of their work, or establishment of new media outlets.
According to reports from Palestinian organizations monitoring press freedom in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), in 2016 the Israeli authorities committed about 450 violations against Palestinian journalists, including assaults, destruction of equipment, arrests and detention, as well as summons for lengthy interrogation. In addition, Palestinian actors have noticeably increased their tendencies to control the press, evident in 98 violations documented against Palestinian journalists, 24 of which took place in the Gaza Strip. Al Mezan Center for Human Rights has documented a general increase in violations against journalists in Gaza. In the first quarter of 2017, 13 journalists were subjected to different violations – two were physically abused, while 11 were detained. Journalists increasingly approach human rights organizations and report extended interrogations by the local security apparatus – a tactic usually used to intimidate journalists and delay their work that is often under pressure of tight deadlines. Furthermore, restrictions on free thought and free expression have been incessantly increasing, forcing many journalists to succumb to widespread censorship of their work, or to resort to the practice of self-censorship as a way to avoid antagonizing subjects of their reports or local authorities.
Al Mezan therefore emphasizes the importance of a free press in any society, as free press is a valuable instrument that can help strengthen human rights. Journalists who are allowed to report without interference or obstacle can play a significant role in disclosing problems in society, therewith giving an opportunity to the general public to form their opinion based on reported facts.
Al Mezan therefore stresses that journalists must be allowed to carry out their work freely, and that freedom of expression must be the guiding light of every democracy, as guaranteed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 19 and 27 of the Amended Palestinian Basic Law, and Article 2 of the Palestinian Law No. 9 of 1995 on Printing and Publishing. During times of armed conflict, journalists are considered civilians and as such must be granted due protection, as stated in Article 79 of Additional Protocol I of the 1949 Geneva Convention.
Al Mezan reiterates our call for unity of Palestinian journalists – as only together will they be able to protect their vital role in society, maintain and defend the ethical principles enshrined in international standards of journalism, and actively work to promote the right to Palestinian self-determination. Disclosing Israel’s and internal violations against the Palestinian population requires coordinated efforts by journalists, who must be allowed to freely investigate all aspects of such violations.
Al Mezan calls upon Palestinian journalists to exert pressure on political parties to end the internal Palestinian schism, which greatly restricts freedom of opinion and expression, limits the right to free access to information, and stifles press freedom in general.
On this occasion, Al Mezan reiterates its calls to:
Al Mezan reiterates its call on all international actors to help protect journalists in the oPt. Al Mezan additionally calls on local and international organizations and unions of journalists, particularly the International Federation of Journalists, to show their solidarity with Palestinian journalists and actively help prevent violations against them, and more importantly, help ensure that perpetrators of such violations are disclosed to the public, and are held accountable in accordance with relevant international standards.