[Published 15 February 2013]
“The State of Palestine” is not a place that encourages or tolerates freedom of speech - if recent events are any guide.
David Keyes has made this very clear in an article written by him in the New York Times:
“Last week, a 26-year-old Palestinian activist, Anas Awwad, was sentenced in absentia by a court in Nablus, the West Bank, to one year in prison for "extending his tongue” against the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Facebook.Thousands have joined a Facebook group to show their solidarity with Mr. Awwad, but the damage has been done. Free speech has been set back, and a chill sent throughout Palestinian society.”
Awwad had uploaded a photo of Abbas on Facebook dubbing it with the caption “the new striker in “Real Madrid”. Perhaps he might have got a lighter sentence had the caption read “the new striker in Unreal Palestine“
Awwad’s “crime” appears to have been committed in the context of the PLO’s ongoing six year struggle for political dominance over its bitter rival Hamas.
In all likelihood Awwad is a Hamas-supporter and has become the latest victim among hundreds of Palestinians who are exposed to detention because of their political opinions.
The law used to convict Awwad was a 50-year-old Jordanian law still operative in the West Bank. The law became applicable in the West Bank when it was unified with Transjordan to form a new territorial entity called Jordan in 1950.
The law was intended to punish critics of Jordan’s monarchy.
Applying that law now to send someone to prison for criticising an unelected and unconstitutional President overstaying his term of office four years after his term has expired indicates the ingenious legal thinking that has permeated the legal system of the “State of Palestine”
The sentence highlights the questionable democratic credentials Mr. Abbas claims to possess when meeting Western leaders.
A suit and tie do not maketh the man.
Abbas has pledged to move Palestine towards a practising democracy as the final destination for creating the two-state solution.
Depriving his constituents of their right to freedom of expression and to hold political views contrary to him is the very antithesis of democracy.
The respected Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has made it clear that this assault on individuals is also happening to journalists in both the West Bank and Gaza
“Over the past few weeks, several Palestinian journalists have been arrested in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for reportedly criticizing the policies and leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas."
But this most recent assault on freedom of expression does not seem to bother the Western countries that fund the Palestinian Authority or Hamas supporters from all around the world.
As far as many Western governments and journalists are concerned, physical assaults on Palestinian reporters in the Gaza Strip are fine as long as they are not perpetrated by Israel.
The Palestinian Authority crackdown on Palestinian journalists in the West Bank is also fine as long as Israel is not involved.
Most of the assaults against journalists took place in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas continues to display zero tolerance towards critics or anyone who dares to say something “controversial.”
In the past few weeks, at least 16 journalists from the Gaza Strip were arrested or summoned for interrogation by Hamas authorities in the context of a campaign aimed at intimidating the local media.
Some of the journalists were released only after Hamas forced them to sign a document stating that they would refrain from attending press conferences or covering various activities unless they obtained permission in advance.”
Jillian Yorke- the director of international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation has noted that this not the first time Jordanian law has been used to prosecute online speech in the West Bank.
“In 2010, Walid Hasayin was arrested in Qalqiliya and accused of violating Article 273 of the Jordanian Penal Code, which deals with insults to “religious feelings of other persons or their religious faith”. And in 2011, another man was arrested under the same article."
Yorke further points out:
“... growing internet penetration has raised the spectre of unbridled freedom for the Palestinian Authority (PA) - (now defunct - ed).With nearly a quarter of the West Bank population on Facebook, new opportunities for online organising and sharing of news have arisen over the past few years… just the recipe to threaten an insecure government.
In 2012, at least 10 individuals were arrested for public criticism of the PA, online or off. In April, two journalists and a lecturer were arrested for comments on Facebook deemed critical of the PA, coinciding with the PA’s awarding of a press freedom prize to American journalist Helen Thomas. The arrests were condemned by watchdog groups, including the International Press Institute and the Committee to Protect Journalists. And Palestinian groups, such as the Independent Commission for Human Rights, have called for greater press freedom.”
One of the targeted journalists, Tariq Khamis, told the Electronic Intifada:
“The regime is very similar to other Arab regimes. If the Palestinian Authority had trust in themselves, they would let journalists get on with their work. But because of their mistakes and corruption, they fear the work of journalists.”
In April 2012 blogger Jamal Abu Rihan was arrested for launching a Facebook campaign demanding an end to corruption. Columnist Jihad Harb was later sentenced to two months in prison on charges of libel and slander for raising questions about cronyism within Abbas’ office.
Last year - according to Yorke:
” Ma’an News uncovered evidence of website blocking, a practice otherwise largely unheard of in the West Bank. The eight blocked websites were all news sites critical of President Abbas and were eventually unblocked after Communications Minister Mashour Abu Daka spoke out against the blocking as being “against the public interest”, resulting in the resignation of Attorney General Ahmad al-Mughni”
The PLO and Hamas are entitled to do whatever they like in their “State” to repress free speech, ban Facebook or Twitter and even harass and arrest journalists or individuals who dare to speak out or criticise those who govern them.
If they want to pursue self-extermination at the expense of self-determination - then that should be their prerogative.
That does not mean that the European Union and America should continue pouring billions of euros and dollars into trying to create a State in their own image that shows no sign of emerging after 20 years of extraordinary financial generosity and political support.
Hopefully those whose tongues are now tied can try throwing their shoes instead.