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Another Palestinian Journalist persecuted for criticizing the PA

By Khalid Amayreh

Muhannad Salahat, 32, is another Palestinian journalist victimized by the Palestinian Authority Mukhabarat or General Intelligence. Earlier this month, Salahat, who lives in Amman, Jordan, but has a home in the northern West Bank town of Nablus, had to spend 14 nightmarish days in the custody of the Palestinian Mukhabarat in Jericho where he was thoroughly abused for criticizing the PA, especially its so-called security coordination with Israel.

Following his release, Middle East Monitor had the chance to interview Salahat. The following is a verbatim translation of his testimony on the treatment he received during his detention in Jericho. Salahat can be contacted on the following email address. salahatm@hotmail.com

"On 18 March, as the bus I was riding from Amman arrived at the Allenby Bridge, which is under Israeli control, we proceeded to the Palestinian Authority Inspection Terminal where the minibus stopped for identity checking. Soon, I saw the bus being surrounded on all sides by policemen. One of them boarded the bus, carrying my passport in his hand and shouting "Where is Muhannad Salahat." As I said "yes," the policeman asked me to disembark and accompany a number of other policemen to a nearby room where all my personal items and luggage were taken from me. Then I was taken rather unceremoniously to another room without being informed why. However, I understood that I was being pursued by the PA General Intelligence. At that point, I was able to call my family to tell them that I was being arrested. As soon as I ended the call, which lasted only for one minute, my mobile phone was confiscated.

Then I was taken to a third room, and a large Ford van stopped nearby and three armed young men dressed in plain clothes, got off the car, and asked me to stand up with my face toward the wall. They warned me against looking at them. A fourth person, armed with an Ak-47, stood behind, training his gun toward me.

After thoroughly checking my luggage, which they did rather provocatively and in disorganized manner, they asked me to stuff them back randomly, after which I was led to the white van. A young man sat at the vehicle's door and kept screaming abusive language at me. He told me that "you should sit down properly because this is a Mukhabarat car not a casino".

After half an hour of driving, occasionally on a rugged road, we arrived at a large, white building, and as soon as I got off the car, I was blindfolded and the ten Intelligence agents kept screaming at me, ordering me to lower my head and not look around. One of them handcuffed my hand to his. As we arrived at the room, all my luggage, including the two laptops I had with me, were carelessly thrown on the ground. They meticulously inspected and examined every item of luggage and piece of paper I was carrying.

Then I was asked anew to stand up with my face toward the wall. Then I heard one of the agents say the following "this person is a kafir" (disbeliever or atheist). I tried to protest the verbal abuse, but to no avail as I was told threateningly to "shut up and keep your face toward the wall."

Afterwards, with my hand tied to the hand of one of the Mukhabarat's personnel, I was taken in a humiliating manner to the doctor's room for a routine checkup. The doctor asked that no one carrying firearms should get inside his room. However, they disregarded his request. Then they took me back to another room where three officers began interrogating me.

The first interrogation room, apparently the director's room, was luxurious. The other room was dirty, slimy and had a rancid smell.

I was affronted with all sorts of strange questions accusing me of committing crimes, including murder. "Finally, we have captured you," they would say, with a sigh of relief. The first interrogation session lasted for three hours and the questions centered on trivial matters and did include some scolding, berating, and offensive language.

Thoroughly exhausted, I then was taken to the dirty, slimy room, where I had no choice but to sleep on a filthy, smelly mattress.

The next morning I was once again taken for interrogation, but the questions they asked were unclear and extremely general. They would tell me "you sure know why you are here, we would like to know from you why you are being detained, and don't pretend that you don't know." Indeed, whenever I demanded to know why I was being detained, they would say "you sure know the reason."!

Then I was taken back to the room only to be subjected to a new session of interrogation for two hours. After asking me virtually the same questions asked repeatedly before, and without telling me why I was being held, I was taken back to the dirty room. There I found a dirty metal dish containing a few pieces of fried potatoes. They told me that this was my lunch.

As I began feeling the utter injustice of my detention, I decided to go on a huger strike at least until they tell me why I was arrested and on what charges. Seeing me refrain from eating, a guard came to me, advising against entering into a hunger strike, and warning that that I would starve to death like a dog.

Similarly my cell-mate tried to convince me to abandon the notion of the hunger strike, saying that they had tried this method before but to no avail.

None the less, I insisted on the hunger strike, and in the evening of that day they (the Mukhabarat agents) came to me asking that I sign a piece of paper stating that I bear full responsibility for ramifications of the hunger strike. On the third day of my strike, an officer came to me, suggesting that if I agreed to reconsider my hunger strike, they would inform me why I was being detained.

However, I refused to break my (extended) fasting until I was taken to a special interrogation room with three interrogators, including a chief interrogator, who asked me questions pertaining to my personal life, including professional career. Soon, they wanted me to tell them what 'crimes, mistakes, and excesses , I committed against the Palestinian national scheme as embodied by the Palestinian National Authority.' They wouldn't tell me what 'crimes, mistakes and excesses they were alluding to,'. Then they asked me to tell them every conceivable detail about my family, brothers, sisters, their husbands, what they do for living and what political parties or groups they were affiliated with.

They also asked me if I had worked with the Jordanian Intelligence, arguing that it was perfectly logical for a person like me to be working with the Jordanian Intelligence. However, after several hours, they just told me that 'we were only having acquaintance sessions.'

Another Palestinian Journalist persecuted for criticizing the PAOn the same evening, and as I refused to terminate my hunger strike, They summoned me again and began a new spate of aggressive questioning on the nature of my work as a journalist and filmmaker and also on the nature of my work for the al-Jazeera network and the Emirate of Qatar. The interrogators concentrated on a newspaper report I had prepared in 2007 on the state of lawlessness and chaos in the West Bank and also Gaza following the Hamas' takeover. The report was still on the internet under the Arabic title "A little of what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza Strip." It was clear that they were disturbed by the report. I asked them why I was being asked about the report three years later. They didn't answer.

They also questioned me on the documentary films I was making for al-Jazeera. I told them that I was working for a Jordanian company that had a working relationship with al Jazeera and that I was not myself directly working for al Jazeera.

On the fourth day of my hunger strike, one officer undertook to tell me why was being held if I ended my hunger strike. I concurred, and they gave me a cigarette but no lighter. I asked for a glass of water, but was told that I could only drink water from the cell's lavatory's faucet.

Again, as I was taken for a new interrogation session, I was affronted with the same general insinuations and questions asked ad nauseam in the previous days of my arrest. Feeling that they lacked any rationale for a genuine case against me, one officer started indulging in abusive language against me, saying that I was a silly person and a mercenary.

The insults continued until shortly before dawn. On the fifth day, I was told to write down all my email addresses and webpage(s). They also asked me if I had ever castigated and smeared the PA and its officials on my website, they mentioned some specific officials, asking me if I had ever vilified them. I refused to mention any person. They continued their efforts to extricate confessions from me, regarding indulging in incitement against the PA, but without succeeding in extracting confessions from me.

On the sixth day, their treatment worsened dramatically as they began restricting my physical movement. For example, they wouldn't allow me to access the bathroom and toilet whenever I needed to.

During the first week of my detention, ten officers interrogated me alternatively, with four, three, two, or even one officer interrogating me once at a time. Then I was subjected to solitary confinement inside a small cell, with a slimy bed, and a rancid smell wafting around. They wouldn't allow me to wash my clothes, nor take a shower. Only five days later did they allow me to change my clothes.

I asked them repeatedly to allow me to clean the room, but they wouldn't agree.

The interrogation continued, normally from 10 pm to around dawn. They once asked me about a visit to Syria where we filmed a documentary, and then they asked me about my friends in Jordan and why I was residing in that country rather than in the West Bank

On the 12th day, they placed me in a room which they could constantly monitor. They would not leave even a Quran on the table there. They demanded that I open my email, saying rather threateningly that if I didn't, they would treat me "differently." (probably an allusion to violence). They saw all the incoming messages but found nothing objectionable, which frustrated them.

On the 13th day, a young but ill-behaving man came, and asked me to write down my complete CV. However as I began writing the CV, he would insist that I add certain words that would indict me. I refused, which upset him and made him make threatening remarks.

On the 14th day, they asked me to collect my belongings because I was about to be released. At around midnight, a Mukhabarat car took me to the Travelers' station in downtown Jericho where I boarded a taxi bound for Nablus.

I was surprised by the huge amount of disinformation disseminated by the Mukhabarat with regard to my arrest while in their custody. They claimed that my arrest was motivated by criminal rather than political considerations. They hinted that my arrest had to do with uncovered checks and unpaid alimony, which is totally false.

Similarly, it was clear that some people had sent messages to my employers, informing them that the background of my arrest was criminal, not political.

After my release, I contacted Adnan Dmeri, the official spokesman of PA security agencies, and asked him about the disinformation disseminated against me for the purpose of defaming me and smearing my image, he told me that the security agencies were not responsible for this since the defamatory materials were not posted on the official website of the Palestinian police." (end)

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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