On 26 February 2019, the Gaza Magistrate’s Court held a new hearing for journalist Hajar Harb, a freelance journalist and reporter for the Al-Masirah Yemeni TV Channel, for publishing an investigative report on corruption in the Medical Referrals Department in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Center for Human rights (PCHR) condemns continuation of Harb’s trial. PCHR also emphasizes that the Attorney General’s office should not have transferred the case file to the judiciary, and that the freedom of press should be respected by the judicial authorities.
According to Harb, the hearing, which was held at 10:00 today, 07 March 2019. The indictment filed by the Attorney General’s Office to Harb included the following: defaming the Ministry of Health and accusing it of corruption, publishing false news, inaccuracy, And criminal impersonation.
Journalist Harb had prepared an investigative report on 25 June 2016, about suspicions of corruption in the medical referrals file. In her testimony to PCHR, Harb said that after a week of publication, the Attorney General’s office had summoned her on grounds of two complaints; one submitted by a doctor alleged to have been affected by the investigation and the other complaint by the Government Information Office. She added that she was interrogated about the press report, noting that the doctor in question has not clearly appeared in the report, and the report’s materials will be submitted to the Attorney General’s Office to follow up the suspicion of corruption while the complaint was dismissed. Harb added she had to travel abroad for treatment. During her treatment abroad, Harb was surprised that the court held a hearing in absentia and considered the lawsuit, which was prosecuted by the Attorney General’s office, as defamation. On 04 June 2017, The court then sentenced her in absentia to six months in prison on charges of defamation and a fine of 1,000 NIS.
When journalist Harb returned to Gaza early last year, she filed a request to annul sentence in absentia and undergo a trial in presence, and the request was approved. The court held seven hearings in her presence; the last was today, 26 February 2019, and preceded by a hearing held on 10 February as it was postponed by the court to 26 February.
The trial is ongoing for the tenth month, inflecting burdens and concerns on the journalist that would affect her work and press freedoms as a whole, and raising fears among journalists working in the Gaza Strip to face the same fate in case they revealed suspicions of corruption.
PCHR affirms that the accusations by the Attorney General’s office against journalist Hajar Harb is considered as an arbitrary use of its authority of charging, as what Harb has done is nothing more than a normal exercise of her right to freedom of press and it would have been better for the office to investigate the suspicions of corruption revealed in the report.
PCHR calls upon the Attorney General to immediately withdraw the indictment and dismiss the case against journalist Hajar Harb. PCHR also calls upon the the security services and judicial authorities to respect the freedom of press and not impose restrictions on it, in addition to refraining from calling or charging any journalist without existence of a real crime and clear evidence.