GAZA, – Hamas security forces’ violent crackdown against peaceful Palestinian protesters, activists, human rights workers – including an Amnesty International worker – and local journalists must be immediately halted and investigated, said Amnesty International (AI).
Hundreds of protesters have been subjected to beatings, arbitrary arrest and detentions, and torture and other forms of ill-treatment since 14 March, when Palestinians took to the streets across the Gaza Strip to protest against the rising cost of living and deteriorating economic conditions under the Hamas de facto administration, it said.
An Amnesty International Research Consultant, Hind Khoudary, has been detained and interrogated by the Hamas forces for working with Amnesty International. Her interrogation lasted for three hours during which four male interrogators subjected her to ill-treatment. The interrogators used abusive language and warned her not to carry out human rights research and threatened to prosecute her for spying and working as a foreign agent, said AI.
“The crackdown on freedom of expression and the use of torture in Gaza has reached alarming new levels. Over the past few days, we have seen shocking human rights violations carried out by Hamas security forces against peaceful protesters, journalists and rights workers,” said Saleh Higazi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“It is clear that Hamas security forces are trying to stop human rights defenders from carrying out the vital work of documenting and reporting on the severe violations they are perpetrating during this ongoing violent and arbitrary crackdown. We are sending a clear message to the Gaza authorities today that we are watching and we will work to ensure that all those responsible for these violations are held to account.”
The human rights violations perpetrated by Hamas forces against peaceful protesters, journalists, and human rights defenders in Gaza are the most severe for more than a decade.
The latest round of repression by Hamas began on 10 March 2019, when 13 activists planning demonstrations to protest the high cost of living in Gaza were arrested during a private meeting at a house belonging to the activist Jihad Salem al-Arabeed in the town of Jabalya, in the northern Gaza Strip.
The arrest came after the group launched a social media campaign titled ‘The revolt of the hungry’ and ‘Down with price hikes’, calling for a protest on Thursday, 14 March in Jabalya.
Security forces stormed into the house without an arrest warrant. The activists were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in detention. On 12 March, they were released with a warning not to continue with their plans.
On the afternoon of 14 March 2019, Hamas security forces – some dressed in civilian clothes – violently attacked hundreds of peaceful demonstrators in Jabalya refugee camp, Deir al-Balah camp, al-Boreij camp and Rafah using sound grenades, batons, pepper spray, live ammunition and physical assaults.
On 15 March, Hamas forces raided a house in Deir al-Balah camp belonging to a local journalist, Osamah al-Kahlout. Inside the house were the Director of the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), Jamil Sarhan, and ICHR lawyer Baker Al-Turkmani. Both human rights workers, who had been monitoring the protests, were beaten and hospitalized and their mobile phones were confiscated. After identifying themselves to the security officers who raided the house, Sarhan and Turkmani were taken outside and repeatedly punched, according to the AI report.
On 16 March, Hamas security forces in Gaza arrested a number of human rights defenders while they were working in the Shujayya neighborhood, east of Gaza city. The four reportedly detained were: Samir Al-Mana’ama, lawyer at Al Mezan Center for Human Rights; Khaled Abu Isbetan, fieldworker at Al Mezan; Sabreen Al-Tartour, field worker at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights; and Fadi Abu Ghunaima, field worker at Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights in Gaza.
Meanwhile, several journalists across Gaza were beaten, detained and were forbidden from documenting the demonstrations. Many journalists, lawyers and NGO workers were reportedly summoned for interrogation after recording testimonies on the conduct of the Hamas police.
“The Hamas de facto administration must immediately launch an independent, thorough and transparent investigation into the unnecessary and excessive use of force, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture and other ill-treatment by security forces. Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, suspected perpetrators should be prosecuted in fair trials,” said Saleh Higazi.
“The authorities in Gaza have a duty to ensure that journalists and human rights defenders are free to carry out their work without threat, intimidation, or abuse; failure to protect such activities and deliberate interference in their work is a flagrant violation of international law.”