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Palestinian Authority Cracks Down on Free Press

Arrests five journalists, shuts down 30 news websites as new law prohibits criticism of “the social fabric”

Liel Leibovitz
August 15, 2017

Democracy dies in darkness: The Palestinian Authority arrested five journalists this week and blocked 30 news websites after its president, Mahmoud Abbas, issued draconian new rules designed to curb criticism and silence the free press.

According to the new regulations, the Palestinian police may imprison any person suspected of endangering “national unity” or “the social fabric,” Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this week, for periods ranging from one year to life in prison. “You can criticize the president and his policy,” an unnamed senior official in the Ramallah district attorney’s office told the paper, “but you can’t call him a traitor or make fun of his picture.”

MADA, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, issued a statement last week condemning the arrests and identifying the five journalists as Ahmad Mohammad Halayka, Tareq Abu Zeyd, Quttaiba Saleh Qasem, Mamdouh Mahmoud Hamamreh and Amer Abdulhakim Abu Arafa. “MADA condemns these arrests,” read the statement, “and considers them to be part of a marked escalation of violations against media freedoms and a blatant violation of the Palestinian Basic Law, which protects freedom of expression and the press.”

Another Palestinian civil society group, the civil rights organization Al Haq, sent a letter to the United Nations to warn it that Abbas’s government was acting in contradiction of both its own laws and international treaties to which it has committed. “We urge the state of Palestine,” read the letter, to “End the practice of arresting and detaining individuals for their real or perceived political opinions, and ensure respect for the rule of law.”

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.