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Update: Belgium to review asylum application by journalist facing death threat
Update: A Palestinian journalist locked up at a detention centre near Zaventem has won his appeal against being deported, after the International Federation of Journalists warned he risked being sent to his death if he had to leave Belgium.
36-year-old Sarhan Abukalloub - who has worked with media companies across Europe - paid about €20,000 to be smuggled through underground tunnels to escape Gaza after he faced constant arrest, was regularly jailed and had his finger broken as a warning by the Hamas-led authorities.
Abukalloub originally had a visa to go to Spain, but was unable to travel there after the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades, part of the military wing of Hamas, issued a death threat against him, instructing its military operatives to find him in Spain and take revenge.
He fled to Belgium to seek asylum and was arrested at Charleroi airport on 21 June. Despite the death threat, the Belgian authorities initially rejected his asylum claim and sought to deport him to Spain.
After a legal challenge and Belgian media coverage this week, Abukalloub learned on Thursday that his appeal against deportation had been successful and his asylum application will now be reassessed by Belgian authorities next week.
'I have had no sleep for 21 days'
Campaigners have called for his mmediate release, as his health is deteriorating rapidly due to his detention conditions. He suffers from chronic hypertension and has a serious chest injury which needs treatment. Despite having a stomach ulcer, the only medication he has been given is paracetamol which he cannot take, he claims.
"I have had no sleep for 21 days now," Abukalloub said. "My health is getting worse. I fainted in the toilet because of a lack of iron and magnesium. I need urgent treatment but can't get it here.
"Because of my hypertension I need calm and quiet but there are five of us in one room, there is often music until 3.00 in the morning. There are no curtains so we wake unwillingly at 5.00. I have been on hunger strike to ask to get put in a place where I can sleep, but because of my illness I cannot sustain it."
'He should be released immediately and granted asylum'
The International Federation of Journalists is demanding his immediate release and has called on the Belgian authorities to grant him asylum. IFJ deputy general secretary Jeremy Dear said: "Here is an independent journalist who has testimony from media companies across the world praising his work exposing the reality of life in Gaza, who is threatened with death by Hamas, even in Spain, who risked his life to flee and yet the authorities choose to lock him up and deny him adequate medical treatment."
Abukalloub said he had been targeted by Hamas because they consider his journalism to be against their interests and have accused him of being an agent of foreign powers. He was arrested three times while working with a Dutch journalist on a story detailing slave labour used to build tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. The authorities accused him of helping the journalist to carry out espionage.
He was also arrested after making a documentary film for London's Imperial War Museum about the problems with electricity in Gaza - during which he was accused of filming military installations - and arrested again during the filming of Team Gaza, a Dutch documentary about a football player who used to be a Hamas militant.