World Press Day: Occupation and Division Undermine Freedom of Expression and Press in Palestine
Date: 03 May 2022
Time: 10:00 GMT
Every year on the 3rd of May the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day while the enjoyment of freedoms in Palestine, particularly freedoms of expression and journalistic work, is on the decline. As is custom for the organization, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) celebrates this occasion with a snapshot highlighting its tireless work on monitoring and documenting violations of freedom of press, as well as defending it. PCHR reiterates that freedom of expression, including freedom of press, is the cornerstone of the human rights and democracy, and it is inconceivable that people would enjoy any of their rights without full enjoyment of their right to access information and express their opinions without arbitrary restrictions.
“On World Press Freedom, we reiterate that the occupation’s crimes against journalists and media organizations shall never go unpunished, and its systematic policy to silence the press has been added to the record of crimes, which they would be held accountable for sooner or later… the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip should be aware that freedoms of expression and press are unnegotiable, and the Palestinian people truly deserves freedom.” – Lawyer Raji Sourani, PCHR’s Director, on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day.
The first quarter of 2022 has passed, all the while the Israeli occupation continues its policy to silence the press in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) without deterrence, in an attempt to hide the truth and enjoy complete control over the victim. Meanwhile, the Palestinian internal division, ongoing for the last 15 years, created a restrictive environment to freedom of expression and journalism, institutionalizing a state of self-censorship among journalists and opinion makers, who avoid all forms of expression that may not be to the liking of the authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Under the international humanitarian law (IHL), the Israeli occupation authorities are obliged not to target journalists and to provide them full protection as civilians. Moreover, the United Nations Security Council issued several resolutions that ensure protection for journalists during military operations, ban targeted attacks on them, and guarantee that perpetrators of crimes against them should be held accountable; as reiterated most recently in Security Council resolution 2222 of May 2015. However, the occupation pursues a systematic policy to silence the press and media organizations that include killing journalists, deliberately targeting them with live and rubber bullets, physically assaulting and threatening them, confiscating their equipment, bombing, and closing their organizations and restricting their movement and travel.
In 2021, PCHR documented 150 violations committed by the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) against journalists and media crews working in the oPt. These violations included shootings that resulted in the killing of one journalist and injured 40 others; 40 cases of physical assaults that involved beating and pushing; 28 cases of detention and arrests; 23 offices bombed and destroyed; 20 cases where journalists were denied access and coverage; continuous ban on the print of newspapers in the West Bank and closure of a printing house.
On the other hand, the State of Palestine has national and international obligations to respect freedoms of expression and press, particularly under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Palestine has acceded to since 2014, as per Article 19 which emphasized the freedoms of expression, opinion, and access to information. Meanwhile, Article 19 and 27 of the Palestinian Basic Law guarantee the freedoms of expression and press and prohibit censorship over media outlets, “no warning, suspension, confiscation, cancellation or restriction shall be imposed upon the media except by law, and pursuant to a judicial ruling.”
Despite the Gaza and West Bank authorities’ national and international obligations to protect, respect and recognize the freedom of opinion, expression and press, the reality on the ground reveals an ongoing and systematic policy of persecuting journalists and opinion makers. After 15 years of continuous violations, self-censorship over issues that may irk the authorities has become part of Palestinian culture. Throughout these years, the authorities employed different methods, including recurrent summonses of journalists and opinion makers; detentions in humiliating circumstances pending malicious investigations; physically assaulting journalists on duty; filing frivolous lawsuits against journalists and opinion makers; closure of media offices and blocking websites.
The murder of Palestinian activist, Nizar Banat, in June 2021 by a security force in the West Bank during his arrest on grounds of freedom of expression was a defining moment in terms of the freedom of expression in Palestine. This was a serious precedent that had a profound impact on suppressing public awareness; exposing the abhorrent manner authorities would deal with opinion makers. Hence, Palestinian authorities deepened the culture of self-censorship among the Palestinian people by not exercising the right to criticize.
In the same context, articles that undermine the freedom of expression and press in the Palestinian Penal Code and Press and Publication Law violate Palestine’s obligations under Article (2) of the ICCPR, which has obliged Palestine to harmonize its legislations with the Convention. Moreover, the State of Palestine does not, to date, have a law that protects the freedoms of access to information and journalistic work, which only amplifies the disregard for these obligations.
PCHR expresses its concern over the institutionalization of the state of “no freedom” in the Palestinian culture. Thereby, on the World Press Freedom Day, which was declared by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1993 as per the UNESCO general conference recommendation, PCHR emphasizes that freedom, particularly the freedom of expression, is an inherent human right and that free press is indispensable for the exposure of the true face of the Israeli occupation on one hand, and for achieving democracy at the internal level on the other.
Therefore, PCHR reiterates its call upon the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to oblige the Israeli occupation to end its crimes and violations against journalists, stop persecuting and assaulting journalists, and to hold those responsible for the crimes against journalists accountable.
PCHR calls upon the authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to respect the freedom of journalistic work and abide by the relevant international standards, especially those codified in the UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 34 that deals with the right to freedom of expression under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
PCHR reiterates that it is imperative to pass a law that protects freedoms to access information and journalistic work; and that legislations must be altered to fit international standards and best practices. PCHR also demands prosecution of all those responsible for, and perpetrators of, violations against journalists and opinion makers.