Hamas apologized to Palestinian journalist Riwa Murshid on Friday, after she was attacked by a member of the Islamist terror group’s security services, allegedly because she was not wearing a hijab.
Hamas Interior Ministry spokesperson Iyad al-Bozm said that the group was “presenting an apology to Riwa Murshid,” following the results of an investigation into the officer’s conduct. Al-Bozm added that the ministry would imprison the officer involved.
“There was an argument between Murshid and one of the members of the Breach Defenders [a Hamas military unit], who then broke the guidelines for dealing with civilians. He beat her with a tree branch before his colleague rectified the incident and allowed them to leave,” al-Bozm said.
Murshid attested that the source of the “argument” was her decision not to wear a traditional headscarf worn by religiously observant Muslim women, known in Arabic as a hijab.
“My body or my clothing were inappropriate, in the words of my assailant, which was why one of the officers used a tree branch to beat me until he left clear and painful marks on my body,” Murshid wrote in a Facebook post describing the incident.
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Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, has been criticized by human rights groups for restricting personal freedoms in the coastal enclave. Since its rise to power, Hamas has tightened restrictions on behavior it believes runs contrary to Islamic law, according to Human Rights Watch.
Murshid, who works for the popular Arabic-language news site Raseef22, had entered an open area with several colleagues close to the coastal enclave’s border with Israel to film. It was not the first time they had entered the area; according to Murshid, they had received permission from the owner to film there.
After they had finished shooting, Murshid and her coworkers were approached by two members of Hamas’s security forces. Murshid said she presented her press card and told them she had received permission to film in the area, although Hamas authorities claim she did no such thing.
“While I was introducing myself as a journalist, the conversation turned toward my appearance and not wearing the hijab,” Murshid said. “He kept flinging phrases at me, telling me I was an apostate, that I wasn’t one of them, and that I had no right to speak and that I ought to shut up.”
The officer continued to harass her for her appearance. When Murshid snapped back, telling him to be more polite, he beat her with a stick, she said.
The independent Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights described the incident as “straightforward assault.” The human rights group accused Hamas of seeking to impose a “specific ideology” on the Gaza Strip.
“Interference by security services in personal freedoms, including the freedom of clothing for women, is a blatant violation of personal freedom and unacceptable discrimination against women,” the Center said in a statement.
In February, a Hamas-run Islamic court declared women would thenceforth require the permission of a male guardian to travel abroad. The terror group later announced it would review the policy, after it sparked widespread condemnation.