West Bank, Patrick Strickland: The Palestinian Authority’s recent arrests of two journalists in the occupied West Bank are part of a broader pattern of monitoring and censoring social media activity, according to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA).
Palestinian demonstrators in Hebron argue with PA riot police during a 20 June rally in solidarity with hunger strikers in Israeli jails. (Mamoun Wazwaz / APA images)
Earlier this month, Palestinian intelligence services arrested 26-year-old Mujahid al-Saadi and 22-year-old Bara al-Qadi, a press release published by MADA reports.
MADA calls for “an end to the arrest and prosecution of journalists and activists for their writings on social networks. These arrests have no legal justification since the law gives anyone the right to litigate in cases of defamation.”
These latest instances of censorship and intimidation are nothing new. Palestinian and international human rights groups have for years documented human rights abuses, political persecution and free speech violations.
The Palestinian Authority – which often works in tandem with Israeli occupation forces to arrest Palestinians in the West Bank – also frequently attacks journalists in demonstrations, and in the past has been accused of torturing journalists apprehended while documented human rights abuses.
The Hamas authority in the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-dominated PA in the West Bank together earned the 138th spot among 180 countries, according to Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 Press Freedom Index, an annual publication that ranks governments’ treatment of journalists.
Palestinian intelligence forces arrested al-Saadi at his brother’s home in Jenin, a city in the northern West Bank, on 19 September.
Al-Saadi, who works as a producer for Filistin al-Yawm (Palestine Today) television, was “apprehended for insulting Fatah Central Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad on his Facebook page and for accusing him of treason.”
Al-Ahmad is also an aide to PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is increasingly seen as having little legitimacy among Palestinians due to his close relationship with the Israeli occupation.
Al-Saadi was released the following day. Bara al-Qadi, on the other hand, has been detained since his arrest on 14 September.
“Defaming the public authority”
Al-Qadi, head of the Birzeit University media club, is “accused of defaming the public authority in journalistic posts he published on social networks and information websites such as Al-Quds and Wattan,” reports MADA, referring to two widely read Palestinian news websites.
Two days after his arrest, on 16 September, a Ramallah court ruled to extend his detention by another fifteen days.
“According to his sister Tasneem, he was arrested for expressing his political views,” MADA notes, adding that requests for release on bail submitted by al-Qadi’s lawyer were denied.
According to the press release:
Three other citizens have been detained and investigated by the Palestinian Security Services for their writings on Facebook during the past months. Pharmacist Ra’ed Al-Qubbaj was arrested in September, and Raya FM Network sound technician Tamer Kahla and Asda’ correspondent Qutaiba Saleh Qassem were subjected to investigation in July.
Stuck between increasingly autocratic authorities in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip, as well as Israel’s brutal occupation, Palestinian journalists are regularly attacked.
While Palestinian journalists have habitually been targeted by Israeli occupation forces – sometimes with deadly force – they have also faced increasingly systematic censorship from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The PA, Hamas and Israeli occupation forces committed a combined total of more than 500 press violations in 2013 alone, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In June, PA security forces attacked Palestinian journalist Mohamed Jaradat for taking photographs of a small protest in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, as reported by The Electronic Intifada at the time.
“Police state of Mahmoud Abbas”
Jaradat was brutally beaten, despite holding PA-issued press credentials. “It is shameful that they call this the ‘State of Palestine,’” he told The Electronic Intifada the following day. Speaking about the PA leader and Fatah party leader, he added: “This is the police state of Mahmoud Abbas.”
It was not Jaradat’s first experience of being attacked by PA forces, either. After being arrested by PA police during July 2012 demonstrations, Jaradat says he was tortured, including being brutally beaten for an hour straight by four interrogators.
Image shows photo of Mohamed Jaradat with bloodied lip and black eye next to his Palestinian Authority press card
Mohamed Jaradat after he was beaten by Palestinian Authority police in 2012. (Image courtesy of Mohamed Jaradat)
Last November, George Canawati, the host of Radio Bethlehem 2000, was arrested and beaten by local police for “slander and defamation” after criticizing a local police commander on air.
It was his fourth time being detained by the PA, Canawati told me in an interview at Al Jazeera English: “The previous times they arrested me at my office, but this time they came to my home. They walked in, hit me, interrogated me and detained me.”
Despite widespread criticism from Palestinian and international human rights groups, there is no indication the PA has investigated the frequent claims of censorship and violent force against journalists.
“Human Rights Watch has not uncovered information about a single case in which a Palestinian security official has been judicially punished for serious abuses, including torture and denial of medical treatment that caused death,” the human rights group said in a press release following Jaradat’s 2012 allegations of torture.
Other human rights groups have come to similar conclusions.
“PA officials, including the prime minister, say that they will hold the security forces accountable for their attacks on the press, but until now we have seen no indication of that,” Saleh Hijazi, an Amnesty International researcher, told The Electronic Intifada in June.