Gaza City: Palestinian journalist Ayman al-Aloul frequently writes about the hardships of life in the Gaza Strip, and is one of the few voices willing to publicly criticize the rule of the Islamic Hamas movement.
But after nine days in jail, al-Aloul says he won't be writing about politics anymore. He said a painful experience that included beatings and being forced to sit uncomfortably in a tiny chair has made him a "new man" and that he will now focus on less controversial topics like sports, food, literature and fashion.
"I've decided not to talk about the general situation anymore," al-Aloul said in an interview at his home today, a day after he was released. "The experience I went through was very difficult."
Al-Aloul's experience is part of a crackdown by Hamas at a time when the continuing miseries of life in Gaza appear to be driving its population toward more open dissent.
Critics have grown bolder on social media sites, and attempts by Hamas to impose new taxes have triggered rare public protests. Al-Aloul said his new reticence would not affect his work as a reporter for an Iraqi TV station, which he described as straight news reporting and not "opinion-making."
It was his personal social media activity that drew attention. In recent months, he wrote under a popular hashtag urging Hamas to withdraw from the Rafah crossing point between Gaza and Egypt.
Like many Palestinians, he believes that Egypt has shuttered Rafah because it doesn't want to deal with Hamas, and proposes letting the Western-backed Palestinian Authority manage the crossing.
He also published pictures of people looking for leftover food in garbage containers, quoted business owners angry over increased taxes and blamed Gaza authorities for prolonged power blackouts.
On January 3, Hamas forces arrested him and another outspoken critic, Ramzi Herzallah, in their homes in Gaza City. During his detention, al-Aloul said he was repeatedly slapped on the face by his interrogators and twice sent to a room known euphemistically as "the bus."
He described it as a room equipped with children's chairs, where detainees are blindfolded and forced to sit for an entire day. "They think that my posts on Facebook harm the Gaza government," he said.