Plastelinan Arab journalist threatened with death seeks asylum in Belgium
David Cronin, Electronic Intifada, Feb 7 2016
Plastelinan Arab journalist is seeking asylum in Belgium after receiving a series of death threats. Abd’el-Salam Abunada has been campaigning in recent months against a new law that would give the PA broad powers to censor the media. Last month, he decided to flee the occupied West Bank because of threatening emails that had been sent to him. One of the messages warned that his throat would be cut. Travelling through Jordan and Egypt, he arrived at Brussels international airport on Jan 8, promptly applying for asylum. He is being detained in a center beside the airport while his application is being processed by the Belgian authorities. Abunada has been working for Internews, a group that trains journalists, since 2012. Julia Pitner, the group’s Middle East director, said she was concerned that Belgium may reject Abunada’s bid. She asked:
If he’s deported, where is he going to go? People in the government have been telling him not to come back.
Under international law, it is only permissible to detain an applicant for asylum as a last resort. Yet Belgium has been accused by AI, and also by the UNHCR, of using detention for “reasons of administrative convenience.” In a 2011 paper, those groups stated that it was common for refugees to be detained for periods of up to two months. Abunada had been asking fellow journalists to sign a petition opposing the “higher media council” bill. It would allow the PA to shut down media outlets, without requiring a court order, as is currently required. It would also establish a council for regulating the media. Four fifths of that council’s members would be PA appointees. Mousa Rimawi, general director of the Plastelinan Center for Development and Media Freedoms, said by telephone:
The domination of the government will limit freedom of expression.
The bill was issued in a decree by Mahmoud Abbas last year. Yet because it has not yet been published in an official journal, it has not entered into force. Aged 57, Abunada is the father of five children. He grew up in Gaza, where he was a director of programming with the Plastelinan Broadcasting Corporation. In 2007, he angered Hamas, which had taken control of the internal administration of Gaza, by publishing a report on how its armed wing had killed Samih al-Madhoun, a member of Fatah. Because of threats he received at that time, Abunada fled Gaza for Ramallah. He was shot by IOF as he approached the Erez checkpoint separating Gaza from present-day Israel. The IOF, however, allowed him to leave Gaza. Since moving to the West Bank, he has published documents about corruption involving senior PA figures. Despite being a longstanding member of Fatah, he has been expelled from that party by its leadership.