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CPJ condemns Israeli security for humiliating screening

Security forces subjected reporters to inappropriate searches at a press event featuring Netanyahu. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

New York, January 14, 2011--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the humiliating treatment of several journalists by security personnel assigned to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. CPJ calls on the prime minister to ensure that similar episodes are avoided in the future. 

On Tuesday, journalists arrived at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem to cover an annual meeting of the Israeli prime minister with representatives of the foreign press, according to a statement released by Al-Jazeera. Al-Jazeera's Jerusalem bureau received the invitation several days in advance and, as required, sent the names of reporters and crew members who would be transmitting live coverage of the conference. Al-Jazeera has been taking part in the event for seven years, according to the station.

Al-Jazeera said its crew, consisting of multiple reporters and two cameramen, arrived early after taking into consideration the complications of security inspections. Despite being one of the first teams at the hotel, Al-Jazeera staffers were stopped and made to wait for two and a half hours while other foreign journalists were allowed to enter. Al-Jazeera said its journalists had to undergo a humiliating physical examination. Najwa Simri, Al-Jazeera news producer, endured a "thorough, painstaking and physical security screening even though Simri had told the guard that she is pregnant," Al-Jazeera's statement said. The station said a female guard ordered Simri to remove her bra; when Simri refused, she was informed that she would be denied entry. Simri then had to wait 15 minutes until her clothes were returned so she could leave.

Other journalists, including a Wall Street Journal reporter, were strip-searched and forced to take off their pants, according to a statement released by the Foreign Press Association in Israel, or FPA. Walid Al-Omary, Al-Jazeera's bureau chief, had to undergo a similar, humiliating inspection, according to Al-Jazeera. Several members of the press corps walked out of the event.

Al-Omary said in a statement that Al-Jazeera reporters and other Arab journalists were made to stand in a line separate from their Israeli and foreign colleagues. Al-Jazeera demanded that "we be treated equally and not be discriminated against because we are Arab journalists or working with Al-Jazeera's team."

In a statement, the FPA asked the prime minister's office "for assurances that this will not happen again or we will respectfully decline further invitation." The Jerusalem Post reported that the director of Israel's government press office, Oren Helman, wrote in a letter to the FPA that he "would like to express regret that journalists left the [government press office] annual cocktail reception feeling that they were treated in an unbecoming manner by security. Obviously, we do not invite journalists to an event in order to offend them."

"The treatment our colleagues were subjected to during an invitation-only media event at a five-star hotel is unspeakable," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "We call on the prime minister's office to ensure that such treatment is never repeated." 

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