Humans rights and press freedom groups are concerned after the detention of Samer Allawi, a senior Palestinian journalist at Al Jazeera in Afghanistan, who Israel has detained since August 10.
Allawi, who is the station's senior bureau chief in Kabul, and who was visiting family in the West Bank village of Sebastia, where he grew up, was arrested on the Jordanian border.
The journalist was brought before a military court today (Palestinians in the West Bank are tried before military courts) and charged with being a member of Hamas.
However, the journalist is claiming, after speaking with Al Jazeera, that Israel was trying to pressure him to act as an informant, and that he did not cooperate. This from Al Jazeera (with emphasis mine):
Salim Waqim, Allawi's lawyer, told Al Jazeera that his client was interrogated about his work and management of Al Jazeera's Kabul bureau, his personal financial information, and his relationships with colleagues, friends, family and relatives.
Israeli authorities took his computer login information and during his interrogation Allawi was accused of being a member of Hamas and having contact with its military leadership, Waqim said.
Majed Khadr, output manager at Al Jazeera said that Allawi told his lawyer that he would be charged with transferring money and orders from Afghanistan to the occupied West Bank if he refused to act as an informant.
However, Allawi continued to refuse to cooporate with the authorities interrogating him.
Local human rights and press freedom groups have released statements condemning Allawi's arrest.
Reporting form the Israeli newspaper Haaretz is consistent with Al Jazeera's report, and includes a quote from Allawi himself:
"All of their accusations have no connection to my work with Al Jazeera. It's an arbitrary arrest. They are trying to search for information to implicate me or Al Jazeera," said Allawi in the footage taken at the military court just before soldiers instructed the crew to stop filming.It should be noted that Allawi was arrested after crossing the same border through which he entered the West Bank three weeks prior to beginning his family vacation.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based advocacy group, called on Israel to clarify the legal basis for holding Allawi, saying he was detained without charges.
"Our concern for Allawi's well-being and his legal rights is amplified with every passing day that he is held without due process," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, Middle East director of the group.
According to the group, Allawi was pressured to act as an informant and was told that if he refused he would be charged with transferring money from Afghanistan to the West Bank. The advocacy group said it received this information from Al Jazeera.
If Israel knew he was a member of Hamas at the time, and feared him enough to warrant arrest and detention (given his high profile status in Middle East journalistic circles), one would think it would have happened on the way in, before he had time to "transfer money" from Afghanistan to the West Bank, which seems to be a part of the charge.
Of course, one might counter that they were simply waiting to accrue more evidence. Though this is unlikely given that he's being charged with Hamas membership -- something that doesn't happen overnight, and something which usually prompts making contacts anywhere but the West Bank (where Hamas' presence is virtually non-existent, and where Israel's intelligence capacity is exponentially greater).
Regardless of what's really going on, the story just doesn't feel right. Arresting and detaining the bureau chief of a major media outlet can't be done lightly. Something must have been important to Israel's intelligence elite. If Allawi is a member of Hamas, the situation surrounding his lengthy detention without explanation is strange. If his arrest and detention was done with enlisting him as an informant in mind, well, that's even stranger.
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