Israeli soldiers’ videos of Gazan prisoners breach international law, say legal experts

The rules of international law state that prisoners must not be exposed to unnecessary humiliation or public curiosity. (Screengrab/BBC)
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Updated 10 February 2024

Israeli soldiers’ videos of Gazan prisoners breach international law, say legal experts

  • BBC researchers find 8 videos shared by Israeli troops on YouTube that showed detainees stripped, bound and blindfolded; others were posted on TikTok
  • Prof. Asa Kasher, lead author of the Israeli army’s Code of Ethics, confirms that filming and sharing humiliating footage of half-naked prisoners violates that code

DUBAI: Humiliating videos of Gazan detainees filmed and shared online by Israeli soldiers could be a breach of international law, legal experts said.

BBC Verify said it analyzed hundreds of videos uploaded since November by Israeli troops deployed in Gaza. Most show scenes of fighting or soldiers inside homes abandoned by the residents. One shows soldiers dressed in dinosaur costumes while launching weapons. In another, troops are seen setting up a pizza restaurant inside an empty Palestinian home.

However, the BBC team said they found eight videos showing detainees stripped, bound and blindfolded. The rules of international law state that prisoners must not be exposed to unnecessary humiliation or public curiosity.

All the videos in question were posted by men who are or were serving soldiers and they did not attempt to conceal their identities.

Mark Ellis, a leading UN advisor to international criminal tribunals, said the footage might violate the recognized international rules governing the treatment of prisoners of war.

The Israeli army told the BBC it had terminated the service of one of the reservists identified by the broadcaster, and said the videos do not represent the military’s values.

The BBC team traced one image of a Palestinian detainee, which has been circulating on social media in the past week, to the YouTube channel of Israeli soldier Yossi Gamzoo Letova.

A video he posted on Dec. 24 shows the detainee seen in the image sitting on a chair, stripped and bleeding, with his hands bound while he is interrogated.

The Israel Defense Forces said that “the photo was taken during a field questioning” and “the suspect was not injured.”

It added: “A reservist photographed and published the picture, contrary to IDF orders and values. It was recently decided to terminate his reserve service.”

Letova uploaded another video to YouTube showing hundreds of Palestinian detainees assembled in a sports field. Most were stripped to their underwear. Some were blindfolded and kneeling on the ground. Both videos were removed from Letova’s YouTube page after the BBC contacted the Israeli army.

A YouTube spokesperson said the platform has removed tens of thousands of harmful videos and shut down thousands of channels during the conflict in Gaza, and teams are working around the clock to monitor the platform for inappropriate content related to the war.

Israeli soldiers have also been sharing videos on TikTok. Two videos posted on the platform by a soldier identified as Ilya Bank featured pictures of blindfolded detainees and images of soldiers posing with guns. Both were removed after the BBC contacted the Israeli army and TikTok.

The BBC reported six other videos to TikTok and the platform confirmed that all of them violated its community guidelines, which clearly state that content “that seeks to degrade victims of violent tragedies” would not be tolerated. The videos were taken down.

Ellis said it is important that prisoners of war are not subjected to degradation or humiliation.

“The idea of walking people through in their underwear and filming that and sending it out certainly would violate that,” he said.

Prof. Asa Kasher, the lead author of the Israeli army’s Code of Ethics, said taking and sharing pictures of half-naked prisoners violated that code.

While there might be military reasons to strip a detainee to check for weapons, he said he could see no reason for “taking such a picture and sharing it with the public” other than to humiliate prisoners.

Michael Mansfield, a human rights lawyer, said the footage should be investigated and assessed by a UN court.

“There is a very severe restriction on how you deal with people who are detained, who are prisoners of war, in a time of war or conflict, which this plainly is, and that provision is really one in which you are intended to treat prisoners with respect,” he told the BBC.

Semafor to launch Gulf edition as third instalment in global expansion

Updated 1 min 33 sec ago

Semafor to launch Gulf edition as third instalment in global expansion

  • Former Dow Jones reporter Mohammed Sergie set to lead platform
  • Transformation of Saudi Arabia one of the world’s biggest and most exciting stories right now, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith tells Arab News

LONDON: News platform Semafor will launch in the Middle East on Sept. 16 with former Dow Jones reporter Mohammed Sergie as editor, marking the firm’s third edition in addition to the US and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Semafor Gulf will feature original reporting and a thrice-weekly newsletter that will analyze the region’s financial, business and geopolitical scenarios and their impact around the world.

“The core of our editorial idea and model around the international news opportunity is this notion that most of the existing dominant English-language news media was created and designed in the 19th century by American and British newspapers, to a large extent, that were domestic news brands,” said Justin Smith, co-founder and CEO of Semafor.

These news brands would then “re-export their content to the rest of the world” almost as an afterthought and send their correspondents around the world to report back for their home country, he told Arab News.

As the world has changed and the number of English-language readers has multiplied, he continued, there is a need for a new model where international reporting “is not done exclusively to report back news for the home country, but rather is created for people around the world — news consumers in the regions where those journalists are, in addition to people who are interested in that region.

“This notion of a foreign correspondent in 2024 is outdated and not as relevant.”

Semafor Gulf, led by Sergie, will launch with a team of staff reporters as well as columnists covering Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, and will continue to expand through 2025.

Sergie, who began his career in the UAE, previously established the Saudi Arabia bureau for Dow Jones in 2008 and served as an editor at Bloomberg News.

Semafor is, in some ways, different from other news brands in that it is “source-agnostic” and is “trying to tell the story a little bit differently, engaging with a sophisticated audience,” said Sergie.

Being a “multi-source media platform,” Semafor features “expert distillation and curation of the best content out there” along with its original content in order to provide a holistic understanding of a particular story, explained Justin Smith.

And currently, Sergie added, “there is a gap in the market of a smart read that brings in information from all sources.”

For example, in Saudi Arabia, officials often share information through podcasts, which does not necessarily feature in “the traditional media diet people have,” he explained.

There is also a different “scene” in each country across the Gulf — a “renaissance” of sorts across different industries — that Semafor wants to capture and bring to the audience, Sergie told Arab News.

Veteran journalist Mohammed Sergie will lead Semafor Gulf. (Semafor)

In addition to culture and business, the Middle East is a geopolitically charged region posing both challenges and opportunities to news platforms.

“The Gulf is this incredibly important site for politics, and these things (politics and other topics like economy and business) are intertwined,” said Ben Smith, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Semafor (of no relation to Justin).

There will “definitely be a geopolitical aspect” to Semafor Gulf’s coverage, Sergie added.

The firm will hire “at least half a dozen journalists across the region,” Justin Smith said, and roughly half of them will be based in Saudi Arabia owing to it possessing the largest share in the Gulf market.

In line with catering to the region, Sergie said the company would “probably experiment with some other channels” such as WhatsApp to reach a broader audience, specifically in the Gulf Cooperation Council area.

Based on his non-journalistic experience, he believes that most corporate and political leaders are “glued to their email,” so will “always consume that way.” And while he agreed that the average reader does not consume news through email, they are not Semafor’s target audience, he said.

The news brand’s coverage is carefully curated for a specific type of reader. “We see the audience as everybody who is obsessed with this story, which certainly includes lots of people in the region, but also includes lots of people outside the region,” said Ben Smith.

Moreover, Justin Smith asserted: “We are not a mass news brand. We’re not interested in reaching every single person.”

Semafor is for the leadership class and for those people who are based in the region as well as those based outside it, but still “deeply interested” in it, he explained.

And that is a key factor differentiating Semafor Gulf from other English-language news companies in the region.

“My understanding is that some of the big global English-language news brands have not necessarily invested as aggressively into the Gulf region, commensurate with the growth of the Gulf story,” said Justin Smith.

Global legacy news media brands usually report for their home country, but we are going to “flip that on its head and actually report for the region and the world interested in the region,” he continued.

Semafor Gulf’s approach is to tailor its content for readers who are sophisticated and passionate about the region while removing the filter that the US or UK might apply to a regional story to make it more relevant for readers in their home base, explained Ben Smith.

Global news outlets often contextualize stories of and about the region in ways that make them more “exotic” or relevant to readers in their home country, he said.

These global media outlets are in a phase where they are “constantly rediscovering the shifts in Saudi Arabia” as if it is a new story; but Semafor Gulf would like to “write with the assumption that people (readers) actually know what’s going on,” Ben Smith explained.

In terms of distinguishing itself from regional media outlets, Justin Smith said, Semafor Gulf will add a “global lens” and “connect the dots” between global and regional stories resulting in a more international “macro sensibility” that is less “Western-centric.”

He continued: “Semafor is a mosaic of multiple sources put together very carefully and very intentionally to bring ideological balance, and so you will see us looking to bring that kind of geographic and ideological balance together, even in the Gulf.”

And so, Justin Smith added, Semafor describes itself as an “intelligent service, as much as a news brand” because as “readers try to triangulate this incredibly complicated news landscape,” Semafor offers a multitude of expert content for readers to consume “quickly and get a much deeper, more insightful, more balanced understanding of any given news story.”

Kremlin says French failure to accredit some Russian journalists for Paris Games is unacceptable

Updated 31 min 54 sec ago

Kremlin says French failure to accredit some Russian journalists for Paris Games is unacceptable

  • France’s caretaker interior minister says that security services had rejected more than 4,000 applications for Olympics accreditations

MOSCOW: The Kremlin said on Monday that a decision by France to refuse to accredit some Russian journalists for the Paris 2024 Olympics over security fears was unacceptable and accused the French authorities of undermining media freedom.
France’s caretaker interior minister said on Sunday that French security services had rejected more than 4,000 applications for Olympics accreditations, including over espionage and cyberattack concerns.
Gerald Darmanin, who said close to one hundred applications had been rejected over espionage fears, said some of those turned down were from Russia and Belarus, a staunch ally of Moscow’s.
When asked about the refusal to accredit some Russian journalists for the Olympics, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call:
“We consider such decisions unacceptable. We believe such decisions undermine the freedom of the media. And they certainly violate all of France’s commitments to the OSCE (The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and to other organizations,” he said.
“And of course we would like to see a reaction to such decisions from relevant human rights organizations, from organizations focused on ensuring all the foundations and rules of media freedom.”
The West on Friday accused Russia of riding roughshod over media freedom after a court found US reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony.
His employer, the Wall Street Journal, called the ruling “a disgraceful sham conviction.” saying he had merely been doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.
The Kremlin said the case and the trial arrangements were a matter for the court, but stated before the verdict and without publishing evidence that Gershkovich had been caught spying “red-handed.”
Relations between Russia and France have sharply deteriorated over the war in Ukraine.
France has supplied military equipment to Kyiv and President Emmanuel Macron had called President Vladimir Putin’s Russia an adversary, warning that Europe’s credibility would be reduced to zero if Moscow won the war.

Lebanese photojournalist, wounded in Israeli strike, carries Olympic torch to honor journalists

Updated 21 July 2024

Lebanese photojournalist, wounded in Israeli strike, carries Olympic torch to honor journalists

  • Christina Assi, of Agence France-Presse, was among six journalists struck by Israeli shelling on Oct. 13 2023

VINCENNES, France: A Lebanese photojournalist who was severely wounded during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon carried Sunday the Olympic torch in Paris to honor journalists wounded and killed in the field.
The torch relay, which started in May, is part of celebrations in which about 10,000 people from various walks of life were chosen to carry the flame across France before the Games opening ceremony on July 26.
Christina Assi, of Agence France-Presse, was among six journalists struck by Israeli shelling on Oct. 13 2023 while reporting on fire exchange along the border between Israeli troops and members of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group. The attack killed Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah. Assi was severely wounded and had part of her right leg amputated.
AFP videographer Dylan Collins, also wounded in the Israeli attack, pushed Assi’s wheelchair as she carried the torch across the suburb of Vincennes Sunday. Their colleagues from the press agency and hundreds of spectators cheered them on.
“I wish Issam was here to see this. And I wish what happened today was not because we were struck by two rockets,” Assi told The Associated Press, struggling to hold back her tears. “I wish I could have honored journalists this way while walking and in my best health.”
AFP, Reuters and Al Jazeera accused Israel of targeting their journalists who maintained they were positioned far from where the clashes with vehicles clearly marked as press, while international human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said the attack was a deliberate attack on civilians and should be investigated as a war crime.
“This is a chance to continue talking about justice, and the targeted attack on Oct. 13 that needs to be investigated as a war crime,” said Collins.
The Israeli military at the time said that the incident was under review, maintaining that it didn’t target journalists.
While holding the torch, Assi said participating in the relay “is to send a message that journalists should be protected and be able to work without fearing that they could die at any moment.”
In late November 2023, Rabih Al-Maamari and Farah Omar of the pan-Arab television network Al-Mayadeen were also killed in an apparent Israeli drone strike in southern Lebanon while covering the conflict.
Assi doesn’t believe there will be retribution for the events of that fateful October day but hopes her participation in the Olympic torch relay can bring attention to the importance of protecting journalists. “For me, justice comes the day I can stand up again, hold my camera, and get back to work,” she said.
The watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists, in a preliminary count, said at least 108 journalists have been killed since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, the majority in the Gaza Strip.
The war was triggered by the Palestinian militant group Hamas’ sudden attack on southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and abducting 250 others. Israel says Hamas is still holding about 120 hostages — about a third of them thought to be dead. Israel retaliated with an offensive that has killed more than 38,000 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.
Hezbollah militants have traded near-daily strikes with the Israeli military along their border over the past nine months.

Israeli Channel 13 News ‘axed show for PM Netanyahu,’ UK protesters say

Updated 21 July 2024

Israeli Channel 13 News ‘axed show for PM Netanyahu,’ UK protesters say

  • Group plans protests on Sunday at 2 locations in UK  

LONDON: The second wealthiest man in the UK is facing protests following claims that his TV network is undermining press freedom in Israel.

Leonard Blavatnik has a majority stake in Channel 13 News in Israel and owns most of Warner Music Group.

Channel 13 News, which is known for its criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and its onslaught on the Gaza Strip, canceled its popular program “Warzone” last week.

The decision came after a leadership shake-up in June, which saw Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich, reportedly an ally of the prime minister, appointed as chief executive, The Guardian reported.

The popular investigative news program “Warzone” was hosted by the journalist Raviv Drucker, who had exposed a series of scandals about Netanyahu.

The channel’s staff slammed the move as “political meddling,” and the Israeli newspaper Haaretz described it as “purely a political decision, contravening all financial and journalistic logic.”

Britons claiming the show was axed for the Israeli prime minister announced plans to protest on Sunday at the Tate Modern’s Blavatnik wing and the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government.

WeDemocracy, the group organizing the protest, said in a post on the social platform X that it was staging the event as a “solidarity move with News 13 journalists and (the) defense of press freedom in Israel.”

The protest also aims to put pressure on Blavatnik to “change the improper appointment of Yulia Shamalov-Berkovic as chairman of the channel,” the group added.

Netanyahu’s government, in retaliation for a deadly Hamas attack on Oct. 7, launched a deadly bombing campaign on Palestine’s Gaza Strip, killing over 38,800 people, according to the health authority in Gaza.

Ukraine-born Blavatnik is worth £29.24 billion. He was brought up in the US, where his parents emigrated when he was a child.

He has received a knighthood in recognition of donations to British institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the National Portrait Gallery.

Russian court jails US reporter Gershkovich for 16 years in spying case his employer calls a sham

Updated 19 July 2024

Russian court jails US reporter Gershkovich for 16 years in spying case his employer calls a sham

  • Gershkovich and his employer say he did nothing wrong, Kremlin says he was caught ‘red-handed’
  • The decision is likely to heighten the already tense relations between Russia and the West

MOSCOW: A Russian court found US reporter Evan Gershkovich guilty of espionage on Friday and sentenced him to 16 years in a maximum security penal colony in what his employer, the Wall Street Journal, called “a disgraceful sham conviction.”
Gershkovich, a 32-year-old American who denied any wrongdoing, went on trial in the city of Yekaterinburg last month after being accused of trying to gather sensitive information about a tank factory.
He was the first US journalist accused of spying in Russia since the Cold War, and his arrest in March 2023 prompted many US and other Western correspondents to leave Moscow.
Video of Friday’s hearing released by the court showed Gershkovich, dressed in a T-shirt and black trousers, standing in a glass courtroom cage as he listened to the verdict being read out in rapid-fire legalese for nearly four minutes.
Asked by the judge if he had any questions, he replied “Nyet.”
The judge, Andrei Mineyev, said the nearly 16 months Gershkovich had already served since his arrest would count toward the 16-year sentence.
Mineyev ordered the destruction of the reporter’s mobile phone and paper notebook. The defense has 15 days to appeal.
The White House and State Department had no immediate comment.
“This disgraceful, sham conviction comes after Evan has spent 478 days in prison, wrongfully detained, away from his family and friends, prevented from reporting, all for doing his job as a journalist,” the Journal said in a statement.
“We will continue to do everything possible to press for Evan’s release and to support his family. Journalism is not a crime, and we will not rest until he’s released. This must end now.”
Gershkovich’s friend, reporter Pjotr Sauer of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, posted on X: “Russia has just sentenced an innocent man to 16 years in a high security prison. I have no words to describe this farce. Let’s get Evan out of there.”
Friday’s hearing was only the third in the trial. The proceedings, apart from the sentencing, were closed to the media on the grounds of state secrecy.
Espionage cases often take months to handle and the unusual speed at which the trial was held behind closed doors has stoked speculation that a long-discussed US-Russia prisoner exchange deal may be in the offing, involving Gershkovich and potentially other Americans detained in Russia.
The Kremlin, when asked by Reuters earlier on Friday about the possibility of such an exchange, declined to comment: “I’ll leave your question unanswered,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Among those Russia would like to free is Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life sentence in Germany for murdering an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident in a Berlin park in 2019.
Officers of the FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, at a steakhouse in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles (1,400 km) east of Moscow. He has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.
Russian prosecutors had accused Gershkovich of gathering secret information on the orders of the US Central Intelligence Agency about a company that manufactures tanks for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
The Uralvagonzavod factory, which he is accused of spying on, has been sanctioned by the West. Based in the city of Nizhny Tagil near Yekaterinburg, it has publicly spoken of producing T-90M battle tanks and modernizing T-72B3M tanks.
Earlier on Friday, the court unexpectedly said it would pronounce its verdict within hours after state prosecutors demanded Gershkovich be jailed for 18 years for spying. The maximum sentence for the crime he was accused of is 20 years.
Russia usually concludes legal proceedings against foreigners before making any deals on exchanging them.

Gershkovich, his newspaper and the US government all rejected the allegations against him and said he was merely doing his job as a reporter accredited by the Foreign Ministry to work in Russia.
State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel on Thursday declined to speak publicly about negotiations on a prisoner exchange, but said Washington was seeking the release of Gershkovich and another jailed American, former US Marine Paul Whelan, as soon as possible.
President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is open to a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and that contacts with the United States have taken place but must remain secret.
Friends who have exchanged letters with Gershkovich say he has remained resilient and cheerful throughout his imprisonment, occupying himself by reading classics of Russian literature.
At court appearances over the past 16 months — most recently with his head shaven — he has frequently smiled and nodded at reporters he used to work with before he himself became the story.
Since Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, Moscow and Washington have conducted just one high profile prisoner swap: Russia released basketball star Brittney Griner, held for smuggling cannabis, in return for arms dealer Viktor Bout, jailed for terrorism-related offenses in the United States.
Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, said he believed Gershkovich’s conviction would encourage the few Western journalists still in Moscow to leave.
“The 16-year a very heavy one,” he said. “Now many Western journalists will want to leave Russia for fear that they may become victims of a hybrid war between Russia and the West.”