Hamas detains journalist for 15 days

GAZA: Hamas officials said today that a British freelance journalist detained in Gaza will be held for 15 days, an unprecedented step against a foreigner since the Islamic militants seized Gaza in 2007.

Documentary filmmaker Paul Martin was detained on Sunday at a Gaza military tribunal where he was to testify on behalf of a Gaza 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 for 15 days was based on a confession by a suspected collaborator with Israel - an apparent reference to the man on trial.

Martin has met with British consular officials since his arrest, Ghussein said.

In Jerusalem, a spokeswoman for the British consulate said that the British government was “very concerned” and has been in touch with Martin’s family. She spoke on customary condition of anonymity.

Raji Sourani, a prominent human rights lawyer in Gaza, said he was asked by Martin to represent him and would meet with the journalist later Monday.

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.

The Gaza Interior Ministry said foreigners are welcome in Gaza, but “anyone who tries to violate the security of Gaza will be held accountable.” Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas official, suggested Hamas policy toward foreigners has not changed. He said 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.