Palestinian media rally for protection after activist death

Palestinian media rally for protection outside UN Ramallah building after activist Nizar Banat's death
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Dozens of Palestinian journalists rallied outside a UN building in Ramallah in the wake of activist Nizar Banat's death in custody. They are demanding press freedom.
Days of protests and police repression have left several journalists injured [ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty]

Dozens of Palestinian journalists rallied outside a UN building in Ramallah Monday to demand press freedom following the Palestinian police's violent suppression of protests sparked by an activist's death in custody.

Nizar Banat, a 43-year-old from Hebron known for social media videos deploring alleged corruption within the Palestinian Authority (PA), died last week shortly after security forces stormed his home and violently arrested him, his family said.

Days of protests, which have met police repression, have left several journalists injured.

Reporters Without Borders said on Monday that during the weekend in the occupied West Bank 12 Palestinian journalists, including five women, had been assaulted by Palestinian police.

Naila Khalil, a reporter with The New Arab's Arabic-language sister service, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, said Palestinian reporters had submitted a letter to the UN urging the world body "to take necessary and immediate measures" to protect media freedom.

Mohammed Gharafi of the Ultra Palestine news site said he had been harassed by Palestinian security forces who threatened to confiscate his phone if he did not stop filming the protests.

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Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said Monday that those responsible for Banat's death "will be held accountable," according to the official Wafa news agency.

According to an autopsy, Banat had been beaten on the head, chest, neck, legs and hands, with less than an hour elapsing between his arrest and his death.

Banat had registered as a candidate in Palestinian parliamentary elections, which had been set for May until Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas postponed them and July's presidential vote indefinitely.

He said this was because Israel did not guarantee Palestinian residents of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem would be permitted to vote, though many protested against the delay.

The Palestinian National Initiative criticised the decision, saying this effectively allowed Israel a veto on Palestine's elections.

The party also criticised the length of time since citizens were last polled in 2006.