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Palestinian authorities arrest activist in growing free speech crackdown

Posted: September 5, 2017 at 9:38 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Palestinian security forces have arrested one of the most prominent human rights activists in the occupied territories after he criticised the arrest of a Palestinian journalist in a Facebook post.

Issa Amro, who lives in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, is the highest profile victim of a growing campaign by Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, against journalists and dissent on social media.

Amro is the founder of Youth Against the Settlements, which has long-documented alleged abuses by the Israeli military and settlers in Hebron. He was already facing charges in an Israeli military court for his activism.

According to Amro’s brother Ahmed, the activist was summoned by Palestinian security forces for questioning after posting on his Facebook account about the arrest of Palestinian journalist Ayman Qawasmeh, who had called on the unpopular and increasingly autocratic Abbas to resign.

In a statement released shortly before his arrest, Amro said: “All my writings on social media are part of the freedom of opinion and expression stipulated by the Palestinian Basic Law and are protected by all international laws and conventions. My arrest will not affect my defence of human rights and the rights of journalists to exercise their work freely and without pressure from the government.”

The move against Amro caught Palestinian officials by surprise. Some of them attempted to secure his release on Monday, saying they were “baffled” by the move against someone who is highly regarded in wider Palestinian society.

“No one could give any justification for it,” said one source. “But it appears the order came from Ramallah.”

A crackdown on free speech in the West Bank began in June when 29 websites, most of them associated with Hamas and Abbas’s former Fatah rival Mohammed Dahlan, were banned.

In July, a draconian new “electronic crimes” law was introduced by decree and with no public debate, setting out harsh penalties for a series of vaguely worded offences on digital media. This led to the arrest of a number of journalists.

Responding to Amro’s detention, Amnesty International said: “It is outrageous that a prominent human rights defender has been arrested simply for voicing his opinion online. Criticising the authorities should not be a criminal offence. Issa Amro’s arrest is the latest evidence that the Palestinian authorities are determined to continue with their repressive campaign against free speech.

“We have seen an alarming escalation in the Palestinian authorities’ clampdown on freedom of expression in recent months. Instead of continuing to step up their efforts to quash dissenting voices, the Palestinian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Issa Amro and stop harassing and intimidating activists and others for daring to speak their minds freely.”

The UN office of the high commissioner for human rights in Ramallah also issued a statement. “OHCHR is concerned at the arrest of human rights defender Mr Issa Amro in Hebron yesterday by the Palestinian Preventive Security. Mr Amro, who has also been the subject of a number of legal proceedings by Israel related to his work as a human rights defender, appears to have been detained after social media posts criticising the arrest of a journalist by the authorities.”



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