By Karin Laub, Associated Press
GAZA City, Gaza Strip – Hamas officials said Monday, Feb 15, that they have detained a British freelance journalist for up to 15 days, an unprecedented step against a foreigner since the Islamic militants seized Gaza in 2007.
Documentary filmmaker Paul Martin was detained Sunday at a Gaza military tribunal where he was to testify on behalf of a local man accused of collaborating with Israel, said Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Ehab Ghussein. He had just begun to speak when the prosecutor ordered police to arrest him, saying the Briton was wanted in the case, according to Ehab Jaber, the attorney for the Gaza man accused of collaborating.
“The policeman put the handcuffs on him, and took him out of the court to prison. They were rough with him,” said Jaber, who witnessed the scene.
Ghussein said Martin, who has produced reports in the past for British Broadcasting Corp. and The Times of London, is suspected of harming Gaza’s security. He said the order to detain him was based on a confession by a suspected collaborator with Israel – an apparent reference to the man on trial.
Martin was being questioned and will be held until the investigation is completed, Ghussein said, adding that the current arrest warrant gives authorities the right to detain him for 15 days with the option to release him early.
Martin has met with British consular officials since his arrest, Ghussein said.
The British Consulate in Jerusalem said Martin is 55. A spokeswoman said the British government was “very concerned” and has been in touch with Martin’s family. She spoke on customary condition of anonymity.
Iyad Alami, a lawyer for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, met with Martin for half an hour on Monday. Martin was in good condition, Alami said, adding that he wanted to learn more about the case before deciding whether his group would represent the journalist. He would not share any more details on the meeting.
The rights group’s director, Raji Sourani, said earlier Monday that he was asked by Martin to represent him.
Martin’s colleagues called for his immediate release.
“We expect Hamas, as we do all parties, to respect the rights of every journalist on assignment, to work without fear of being arrested,” said the Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists covering Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Since Hamas wrested Gaza from Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas nearly three years ago, it has carefully avoided confrontations with foreign visitors, particularly journalists. It also has tried to reach out to the West in hopes of ending an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade.
In the two years before the Hamas takeover, more than a dozen foreign journalists and aid workers were abducted in Gaza, which was plagued by political violence and lawlessness.
Most of the kidnappings were carried out by gunmen seeking favors from the government or trying to settle scores with rivals. Hamas has neutralized most of its rivals and prides itself in restoring a sense of security in Gaza.
Gaza’s Foreign Ministry said it “wishes to reassure all journalists working in the region that the Palestinian government guarantees their freedom to work in the Gaza Strip without interference.”
Ahmed Youssef, a ministry official, said that Martin “is being detained for clear security reasons, and it is nothing to do with his job as a journalist or (him being) a Westerner.”
The chain of events began Sunday when Martin went to the military court to speak on behalf of Mohammed Abu Muailik, who is being accused of collaborating with Israel, said Jaber, Abu Muailik’s defense attorney.
The attorney said Martin had been working on a documentary about Abu Muailik, who has been in detention since June.
A spokesman for a Gaza militant group, the Abu Rish Brigades, said Abu Muailik is a former member. The brigades are a violent offshoot of Hamas rival Fatah, the movement led by Abbas.
Jaber would not discuss details of Abu Muailik’s past, but said his client works in computer maintenance and has a business relationship with an Israeli partner.
Asked about confessions that might have implicated Martin, Jaber said: “These confessions … came under psychological and physical pressure. Anyone who was under such torture would say the same. We have evidence that he is not a collaborator.”