On Thursday 25 July Attorney General Ismail Jabr issued an order announcing the temporary closure of Ma’an News and Al-Arabiya News Channel offices in the Gaza Strip. The order demanded that any information or documents possessed by the two news agencies should be released only with the permission of the Attorney General himself. Neither news agency has been able to carry out any reporting activities in the Gaza Strip since the order was issued.
Al-Haq emphasises the importance of respecting the right to freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, and the value derived from the development of news agencies and their coverage of events in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Al-Haq has studied the order of the Attorney General carefully and is concerned by the ramifications of such an order, which violates both Palestinian Basic Law and the Printing and Public Publications Law of 1995:
- Article 19 of Palestinian Basic Law enshrines the right to freedom of expression in all its forms;
- Article 27 of Palestinian Basic Law stipulates that confiscation of information from the press can only be executed through a court order;
- Article 32 of Palestinian Basic Law states that violation of freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of the press, is a criminal act punishable by law.
Al-Haq emphasises that the right to freedom of expression is enshrined in both international law and Palestinian legislation and consequently calls upon the Attorney General of the Gaza Strip to immediately withdraw his order to close these two media outlets. Both Ma’an News and Al-Arabiya News Channel must be allowed to carry out reporting activities free from harassment or attempts to stifle press freedom. If stories covered by news agencies violate the law, then legal procedures must be followed in any action taken against the relevant news outlets. To this end, the Attorney General, as part of the executive authority in the Gaza Strip, should not interfere in decisions falling within the judicial sector’s mandate.