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Palestinian Authority frees journalists arrested amid media crackdown

Trump spoke with Palestinian President Abbas (pictured) in their first phone call on Friday, inviting him to visit the White House soon
Fabrice COFFRINI (AFP/File)
The releases came a day after Hamas freed a journalist in the Gaza Strip from the PA-linked Palestine TV

The Palestinian Authority decided to release five journalists on Monday after arresting them last week, their lawyer said, a day after political rivals Hamas released a PA-linked reporter.

The five, including from Hamas-linked media, had been arrested in the West Bank on accusations of "leaking sensitive information to enemy groups".

Three of the five were freed earlier Monday, with the others expected to be released later in the day, the lawyer said.

"The relevant courts decided to free five journalists and all journalists are supposed to be released," Alaa Freijat, lawyer for the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, told AFP.

They were held under the PA's new electronic crimes law, which has been criticized by rights groups who say it restricts criticism of officials on social and traditional media, with the potential for jail sentences.

One of the journalists worked for the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz had earlier named the reporters as Mamdouh Hamamrah, 33, Qotaybah Qasem, 29, Tariq Abu Zaid, 42, Amer Abu Arafah ,35 and Mohammed Ahmed Halayqah, 31, most from outlets identified with Hamas. 

The releases came a day after Hamas freed a journalist, Fouad Jarada, in the Gaza Strip from the PA-linked Palestine TV, and family members of the journalists told Haaretz that they were detained because Abbas wanted to "take revenge" for the the arrest of the PA-linked journalist, who was arrested in June by Hamas authorities. 

The PA run by president Mahmud Abbas is based in the West Bank, while Islamist movement Hamas controls Gaza.

The two factions have been unable to reconcile in a decade and are often at loggerheads.

The journalists' syndicate has called for media to be spared the fallout from the split between the Palestinian factions.

In 2016, Freedom House classified the media environment in the West Bank and Gaza as "not free", ranking it below Iraq and Zimbabwe and level with Russia.

Read more: Palestinian journalists, social media users face jail time in new Abbas decree

Read more: PA arrests activist over Facebook post denouncing senior official

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