Will Hamas extend British journalist Paul Martin's detention in Gaza? Yes?

The 14-day detention order issued by a Gaza prosecutor for “security concerns” against British freelance film maker and journalist Paul Martin is due to expire today. There were reports yesterday that the prosecutor may ask to extend Martin’s detention for another 14 days.

Martin had returned to Gaza 14 days ago to testify in court on behalf of a Palestinian member of a militant group who was facing charges of collaboration with Israel. [The NYTimes (see below) identified this man as “Mohammed Abu Muaileq …a former member of a rocket-launching squad who appeared in a documentary that Mr. Martin produced in 2008”.]

It was reported that Martin was arrested on the basis of evidence given by [Mohammed Abu Muaileq] the man Martin had gone to Gaza to try to help defend.

Martin was arrested at the Gaza court house — one report indicated that he was arrested just after he had actually started to testify — and taken to Gaza City’s central jail.

He was subsequently visited by local Palestinians who work for the British consulate (in East Jerusalem).

Everything went quiet a day after Martin’s detention.

There were initial reports from Palestinian sources that the testimony against Martin was that he had tried, at one point, to see if he could find traces of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Palestinians in a cross-border raid in late June 2006 and held somewhere in Gaza ever since.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has never been able to visit Shalit. Through the intercession of various intermediaries, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Shalit has been able to send a letter to his family, and more recently a video was released showing Shalit in reasonably good health and reasonably at ease with — or, at least not terrified of — those filming the video.

There have also been reports from Palestinian sources in recent days that Martin might have been trying to trace weapons imports into Gaza.

UPDATE: Just after mid-day, Haaretz published a report from Gaza by the AP saying that Martin’s lawyer, Sharhabil Zayim, said that the detention has indeed been “extended by 15 days. The lawyer says Martin would either have to be charged or released at the end of that period. Hamas has portrayed Martin as a threat to Gaza’s security but made no specific accusation”. This AP report can be viewed on Haaretz’s website here.

UPDATE TWO: British Consulate official in Jerusalem Fadi Adeeb said two hours later that he could not — yet — confirm this news. “Up to now, we’re still awaiting the outcome, the official notification of the outcome, from our local consular staff in Gaza and from our lawyers”, he said. Adeeb said that one of the British consulate’s local Palestinian staff members has seen Martin not just once, on the day of his arrest, but several times. Adeeb said that if today’s news is true, concerning the extension of Martin’s detention, the British Consulate would be issuing a statement.

UPDATE THREE: The New York Times reported later with help from a reporter in Gaza that “Mr. Martin was taken to court on Monday in a military minibus. Armed police officers prevented reporters from talking to him or entering the courthouse. A lawyer for Mr. Martin, Sharhabil al-Zaeem, said his client was being questioned on suspicion of violating security. Mr. Zaeem said he was ‘optimistic’ that his client would be freed without charges at the end of the investigation. The British government was ‘extremely concerned’ about the extension of Mr. Martin’s detention, according to Fadi Adeeb, the press officer of the British Consulate in Jerusalem, and called for his immediate release, noting that no charges had been pressed … The Palestinian on trial, Mohammed Abu Muaileq, is a former member of a rocket-launching squad who appeared in a documentary that Mr. Martin produced in 2008″. This NYTimes report can be read in full here.

UPDATE FOUR: Ma’an News Agency reported that a “Gaza government military court” extended Martin’s detention after … “the military prosecutor agreed … pending further investigations”. Ma’an added that Ihab Al-Ghussein, spokesperson for the “de facto government’s Ministry of Interior”, said “the journalist is being treated in accordance with international law” and that Martin “had been put in touch with his wife”. This report is published here.

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