Gaza reporter who alleged Hamas corruption appeals prison sentence

‘The authorities in Gaza are blatantly seeking to punish her for exposing corruption within the Hamas administration,’ says Amnesty International.
Tuesday 26/02/2019
Palestinian journalist Hajar Harb leaves the court complex in Gaza, on February 26. (AP)
Palestinian journalist Hajar Harb leaves the court complex in Gaza, on February 26. (AP)

LONDON — A Gaza journalist appealed a six-month prison term and fine over her reporting on alleged corruption within the Hamas-run Health Ministry in a case that has drawn international condemnation of the coastal strip’s rulers.

Hajar Harb reported in 2016 that healthy people were paying doctors to help them circumvent the Israeli-Egyptian blockade by issuing medical referrals to hospitals abroad. She was sentenced and fined later that year and appeared before a Hamas-run court on February 26, where the judge postponed her hearing on libel and slander charges until March.

“The harassment we face is not solely security. It is physical, psychological and is affecting our source of income,” she said outside the court complex. “No one knows where things are going in the coming sessions.”

Journalists who gathered outside the court complex called for Harb’s acquittal.

Fathi Sabah, a journalist campaigning on her behalf, said the case marks the first time Hamas authorities have sued a journalist for their work since the group seized Gaza by force in 2007.

“This is a dangerous indicator of the deteriorating situation of journalists in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Hamas denies the charges levelled in her 2016 report and they sentenced her in absentia while she was receiving cancer treatment in Jordan.

Bakr Turkmani, a lawyer from the Independent Commission for Human Rights, said those suspected of misconduct should be tried, not the journalists who unveil it.

Last year, Harb was fired from a local media production company after another investigation piece raised suspicion that Hamas authorities gave donated housing units designated for the poor to ineligible beneficiaries. “The company claimed the work harmed its relationship with the factions and the party,” Harb said.

The trail drew condemnation by, Amnesty International on February 25.

“The prosecution of Hajar Harb is an outrageous assault on media freedom. The authorities in Gaza are blatantly seeking to punish her for exposing corruption within the Hamas administration. The authorities must drop all the charges against her immediately,” said Saleh Higazi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“It is deeply alarming that Hajar Harb is facing six months in jail simply for doing her job. If her conviction on trumped up charges is upheld it would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Gaza.” 

Harb told Amnesty International that she was verbally harassed and received threats from doctors in Gaza.

“I was cursed with bad words, threatened with physical harm and even accused of being a collaborator with Israel by spreading rumours on Facebook by some doctors in Gaza,” she told Amnesty International.

“I sometimes question myself and say, what have I done? I’m paying the price of doing an investigative piece about corruption in Gaza. How is this fair?’’ Harb told Amnesty International.

Rights groups often charge that fair litigation is not guaranteed in Hamas’s judiciary system. Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the internationally-recognized Palestinian Authority in 2007.

(AW and agencies)