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Severe harassment by Palestinian Authority and Hamas security forces targeting Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza has had a pronounced chilling effect on freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said today. In a new report, Human Rights Watch called on Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza to hold their security forces to account for systematic, severe abuses and urged foreign donors to the Palestinian Authority (PA) to condition aid to security forces on concrete accountability measures.
The 35-page report, "No News is Good News: Abuses Against Journalists by Palestinian Security Forces," documents cases in which security forces tortured, beat, and arbitrarily detained journalists, confiscated their equipment, and barred them from leaving the West Bank and Gaza.
"Palestinian security forces are becoming notorious for assaulting and intimidating journalists who are just trying to do their jobs," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza need to end these blatant attacks on free expression."
In the West Bank, reported incidents of official harassment of journalists by PA security services temporarily spiked during Israel's offensive in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, but the overall trend has continued to worsen. According to one rights group, the Center for Development and Media Freedoms, the number of physical attacks, arrests, detentions, arbitrary confiscations of equipment, and other violations of journalists' rights by Palestinian security forces increased in both Gaza and the West Bank in 2010 by 45 percent over the previous year.
The report, based on interviews with Palestinian journalists, journalist syndicate representatives, and PA officials, focuses on seven cases of journalists who were abused by PA security forces, and documents two cases of abuse by Hamas internal security forces in Gaza, where the situation for journalists is also dire. Abuses by Hamas in Gaza as well as by Israeli military forces throughout the occupied Palestinian territories will be the focus of future reporting, Human Rights Watch said.
In recent days, Hamas internal security services have repeatedly violated the rights of journalists covering popular demonstrations in Gaza against the political split between Hamas and the Fatah-led PA, Human Rights Watch said. For example, journalists told Human Rights Watch that on March 19, 2011, around 15 Hamas plainclothes security forces raided the offices of the Reuters news agency bureau in Gaza, smashed computers, and beat journalists, after pointing a gun at one of them and threatening to throw another out of a window. In another case, a reporter for the Al Quds radio station told Human Rights Watch that on March 27 Hamas police threatened, insulted, and detained him for more than an hour immediately after he had broadcast a report criticizing Hamas health officials. Security forces accosted him in a morgue where he had reported on a man, supposedly killed by an Israeli military attack, who was discovered still to be alive.
Since Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, the majority of abuses against journalists in both the West Bank and Gaza have been related to tensions between the PA and Hamas, the report found. In the West Bank, the primary targets are journalists whom PA security services suspected of working for television, radio, websites, and newspapers seen as favoring Hamas or other Islamist groups such as Islamic Jihad, or are otherwise critical of the PA.
In one case documented in the report, a PA military court in the city of Jenin sentenced television journalist Tariq Abu Zeid, 34, to a year-and-a-half in prison despite two civilian court rulings ordering his release. Abu Zeid was the northern West Bank correspondent for the Al Aqsa television station, and had worked for the Gaza-based Al-Risala newspaper, both of which are considered to be pro-Hamas.
PA security services have also targeted independent journalists suspected of working on reports that might be critical of the PA. Security officials from the PA detained Muhannad Salahat, a freelance journalist and filmmaker, for 14 days in March and April 2010 without charging or notifying him of the reason for his arrest. Security officials interrogated him for days about whether he was preparing a documentary on the PA for Al Jazeera, the satellite television channel which had been critical of the PA and which the PA saw as pro-Hamas. PA security services detained Salahat for another 10 days in May 2010, and Jordanian intelligence officers later prevented him from traveling from the West Bank to Jordan, saying that he required special clearance from the PA before he could travel.
The majority of abuses documented by Human Rights Watch and reported by local rights groups involved the PA's Preventive Security agency and General Intelligence Services, and the detention of civilian journalists by the PA's military judiciary. In a positive recent development, the military judiciary has said it would stop exercising jurisdiction over civilians, although many civilians are still detained by the military.
Overall, the increasing number of alleged abuses against journalists takes place in the context of virtual impunity for serious human rights violations generally by PA security service officials, Human Rights Watch said. In total, Palestinian rights groups reported more than 200 allegations of torture by PA security agencies in 2010 - up from 164 complaints in 2009 - yet the courts have criminally prosecuted security officers for abusing detainees in only one case; a military court acquitted all five of the accused in July 2010.
Human Rights Watch cannot point to instructions from PA leaders to the security services directing them to commit these violations, but the utter failure of the PA leadership to address the prevailing culture of impunity for such abuses suggests that they reflect government policy.
The United States provided $350 million to the PA for security and program assistance in 2010, in addition to $150 million in direct budgetary support, while the European Union gave the PA more than EUR230 million ($315 million), including for security assistance. Human Rights Watch called on the US and the EU to condition support for all PA security agencies on the PA taking effective steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish security officers responsible for serious abuses.
In Gaza, Hamas internal security agents have summoned critical journalists for questioning, which the journalists interpreted as a form of intimidation, and government officials called some journalists to warn them that their coverage was "slanted" or "biased." In one case, Hamas security services harassed a Gaza-based journalist for the pro-Fatah Al-Hayat al-Jadida newspaper, repeatedly visiting her home and threatening her over the course of three months in 2010. In another case, the Hamas Ministry of Interior summoned a journalist who published an article on torture by Hamas authorities in secret detention facilities, threatened to take legal action against him if he did not publish an apology for the article, and warned him to correct his "biased" reporting.
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"This is not the path to peace and marks a serious escalation," said the U.K.-based Stop the War Coalition. "Sending tanks is a step further away from negotiation."
The Biden administration is reportedly finalizing a plan to send dozens of Abrams tanks to Ukraine and Germany announced Wednesday that it has agreed to supply Kyiv's forces with 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks, moves that peace advocates said represent a dangerous escalation of the war.
Both the U.S. and Germany had previously hesitated to approve the delivery of tanks to Ukraine, which has been under assault from Russian forces for nearly a year. As CNNreported Wednesday, "German officials had openly stated that they would only send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine if the U.S. sent the M-1 Abrams tank, a system U.S. officials had repeatedly stated was overly complex and difficult to maintain."
"The U.S. decision to provide Abrams tanks to Ukraine is an abrupt about-face from its stated position, one that allows Germany to send its tanks and to clear the way for the approval of other European countries to send in more of the German-made Leopard 2 tanks as well," the outlet added.
The Biden administration is expected to announce its plan to send tanks to Ukraine later Wednesday. Citing a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the plan, The Washington Postreported that the U.S. tanks may not arrive in Ukraine "until at least the fall."
It will likely take months to train Ukrainian forces to use the tanks, analysts say.
Anti-war campaigners and commentators warned that the shipment of battle tanks into Ukraine will deepen the West's involvement in a devastating conflict that is at risk of becoming a direct—and potentially nuclear—confrontation between Russia and NATO.
"This is not the path to peace and marks a serious escalation," responded the U.K.-based Stop the War Coalition. "Arming Ukraine and sending tanks is a step further away from negotiation."
In a column for Responsible Statecraft on Monday, Branko Marcetic cautioned that "little by little, NATO and the United States are creeping closer to the catastrophic scenario President Joe Biden said 'we must strive to prevent'—direct conflict between the United States and Russia."
"When the United States involves itself militarily in a conflict, it often finds it hard to get itself out, let alone avoid deep entanglements that blow well past lines it had drawn at the start of the intervention," Marcetic wrote, citing Vietnam and Afghanistan as clear examples.
"Unless officials make a concerted effort to deescalate and pursue a diplomatic track—and prominent voices in media and politics create the political space for them to do it—Biden's vow to avoid World War Three will mean as much as President Johnson's 1964 promise not to 'send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves,'" Marcetic added.
"Little by little, NATO and the United States are creeping closer to the catastrophic scenario President Joe Biden said 'we must strive to prevent'—direct conflict between the United States and Russia."
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who faced significant pressure from Baltic nations to send tanks to Ukraine, said the agreement was reached after "intensive consultations that have taken place between Germany and its closest European and international partners."
Dietmar Bartsch, parliamentary leader of Germany's Left party, denounced Scholz's decision, warning that the "supply of Leopard battle tanks... potentially takes us closer to a third world war than in the direction of peace in Europe."
The U.S. and Germany's tanks will add to the supply already pledged by Poland, Spain, the U.K., the Netherlands, Finland, and Denmark.
"Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace," right-wing British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted Wednesday.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's foreign minister, wrote on social media that "the tank coalition is formed."
"Everyone who doubted this could ever happen sees now: for Ukraine and partners impossible is nothing," Kuleba added. "I call on all new partners that have Leopard 2 tanks in service to join the coalition and provide as many of them as possible."
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, for his part, called the U.S. and German plans "disastrous" because of "technological aspects," an apparent reference to the complexities involved in training Ukrainian forces to use and maintain the tanks.
"I am convinced that many specialists understand the absurdity of this idea," said Peskov. "These tanks will burn down just like all the other ones... Except they cost a lot, and this will fall on the shoulders of European taxpayers."
"It's disappointing but not surprising that Kevin McCarthy has capitulated to the right wing of his caucus," the three Democratic lawmakers said in a statement.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday formally blocked Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from serving on the House Intelligence Committee and is expected to hold a floor vote to remove Rep. Ilhan Omar from the chamber's foreign affairs panel, moves that the Democratic lawmakers slammed as "political vengeance."
"It's disappointing but not surprising that Kevin McCarthy has capitulated to the right wing of his caucus, undermining the integrity of the Congress, and harming our national security in the process," the Democrats said in a joint statement, calling the push to keep them off committees the product of a "corrupt bargain" that the Republican leader struck "in his desperate, and nearly failed, attempt to win the speakership."
"Despite these efforts, McCarthy won't be successful," the lawmakers added. "We will continue to speak out against extremism and doggedly defend our democracy."
The House speaker has final authority over who sits on the Intelligence Committee, allowing McCarthy (R-Calif.) to unilaterally block Schiff (D-Calif.) and Swalwell (D-Calif.) from the panel even after Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) requested that they be reappointed.
But a floor vote will be required to remove Omar from her spot on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which she has used to grill officials on the sordid history of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, speak out against military intervention, and advocate for global human rights.
Omar has argued that the GOP push to strip her committee assignments is rooted in bigotry.
"I do not actually think that he has a reason outside of me being Muslim and thinking I should not be," Omar said of McCarthy earlier this month.
Sumayyah Waheed, senior policy counsel at Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights group, said in a recent interview with HuffPost that "by stripping Rep. Omar of her committees, McCarthy kills two birds with one stone: He attempts to silence an effective, principled voice on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and he stokes the ugly culture of anti-Muslim hate for cheap political points."
McCarthy and other Republicans have also falsely accused Omar of antisemitism, an allegation that has drawn backlash from progressive Jewish organizations.
"We categorically reject the suggestion that any of her policy positions or statements merit disqualification from her role on the committee," Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Habonim Dror North America, J Street, New Israel Fund, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and T'ruah said in a statement last month.
"McCarthy's pledge seems especially exploitative in light of the rampant promotion of antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories by him and his top deputies amid a surge in dangerous right-wing antisemitism," the groups added. "He posted (and later deleted) a tweet charging that George Soros and two other billionaires of Jewish descent were seeking to 'buy' an election. His newly elected Whip Tom Emmer said the same people 'essentially bought control of Congress.' Meanwhile, Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik has promoted the deadly antisemitic 'Great Replacement' conspiracy theory."
McCarthy has even faced some pushback from members of his caucus who oppose removing Omar and other Democrats from their committee seats.
"Two wrongs do not make a right," Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) said in a statement Tuesday, pointing to House Democrats' decision in 2021 to remove Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from committees for promoting odious conspiracy theories and violence.
Both far-right Republicans have been reinstated to committees under the new House GOP majority.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) has also signaled she would vote against removing Omar from committees.
As for Schiff and Swalwell, McCarthy claimed in a letter to Jeffries on Tuesday that the two Democrats participated in the "misuse" of the House Intelligence Committee during the 116th and 117th sessions of Congress.
The Washington Postreported that "McCarthy has argued that both Schiff and Swalwell are unfit to serve on the committee, using Schiff's work conducting the first impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump and Swalwell's alleged ties to a Chinese intelligence operative. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing in relation to the allegation against Swalwell."
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Schiff accused McCarthy of "carrying the dirty water" for the twice-impeached former president.
"This is petty, political payback for investigating Donald Trump," Schiff added on Twitter.
One critic said Republican Gov. Kristi Noem is "stopping at nothing until every woman in South Dakota is forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term."
South Dakota's Republican governor and attorney general on Tuesday issued a threatening letter directed at the state's pharmacists in response to a recent move by the Biden administration to ease restrictions on dispensing abortion pills amid the GOP's nationwide assault on reproductive freedom.
Gov. Kristi Noem and AG Marty Jackley's letter begins by noting that after Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reversed Roe v. Wade last year, abortion became illegal in South Dakota except to save the life of the pregnant person. It's one of 14 states where abortions are now largely unavailable.
The letter states that "in South Dakota, any person who administers, prescribes, or procures for any pregnant female any medicine or drug with the intent to induce an abortion is guilty of a felony."
\u201c.@KristiNoem stopping at nothing until every woman in South Dakota is forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term\u201d— Julie Alderman Boudreau (@Julie Alderman Boudreau) 1674590026
In a policy change long advocated by medical experts and rights campaigners, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this month formalized a regulatory change to allow retail pharmacies in the U.S. to dispense mifepristone, one of two drugs often taken in tandem for a medication abortion.
Referencing that development, the letter says that "under South Dakota law, pharmacies, including chain drug stores, are prohibited from procuring and dispensing abortion-inducing drugs with the intent to induce an abortion, and are subject to felony prosecution under South Dakota law, despite the recent FDA ruling."
As The Associated Pressreported Tuesday:
The [FDA's] change could expand access at online pharmacies. People can get a prescription via telehealth consultation with a health professional and then receive the pills through the mail, where permitted by law.
Still, in states like South Dakota, the rule change's impact has been blunted by laws limiting abortion broadly and the pills specifically. Legal experts foresee years of court battles over access to the pills as abortion rights proponents bring test cases to challenge state restrictions.
Amanda Bacon, the director of the South Dakota Pharmacists Association, said in an email that she was not aware of any South Dakota pharmacies with plans to participate in the federal program to dispense abortion pills.
The pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, which tracks policies across the country, labels all six states that border South Dakota as restrictive of abortion access to various degrees—and South Dakota is among the dozen "most restrictive" states in the nation.
While the FDA's recent move was widely seen as a step toward alleviating some of the strain on clinics trying to serve a growing number of patients fleeing states with forced-birth policies, an ongoing legal battle over the agency's initial approval of mifepristone in 2000 could jeopardize access to the drug nationwide.
\u201cOne of the medications taken in the most common way to end a pregnancy could soon be taken off the market nationwide.\n\nNationwide.\n\nThat means medication abortion can\u2019t exist even in places that have PROTECTED abortion access.\n\nhttps://t.co/fZlZG6vBzA\u201d— Planned Parenthood Action (@Planned Parenthood Action) 1674575101
Anti-choice physicians last month asked Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk—appointed by former President Donald Trump to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas—to throw out the FDA's 2000 decision. The judge, who was previously the deputy general counsel at a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, could issue a ruling as soon as February 10.
If the Christian alliance that launched the attack on the FDA approval "wins in federal district court, the Biden administration would appeal to the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, a conservative court with 12 of its 16 active judges appointed by Republicans," CNBCpointed out Tuesday. "From there, the case could end up at the Supreme Court."