The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has used an antiquated Jordanian law to arrest two Palestinian journalists who criticized PA President Mahmoud Abbas – one of whom is accused of doing so using his Facebook page.

In the past few weeks, the two Bethlehem men were incarcerated by PA security forces for violating the law, which dates to 1960.

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Both men have since been released from prison, following strong protests by human rights activists and other journalists. One of the men had been held since last November.

Article 195 of the Jordanian Penal Code stipulates that “anyone whose audacity to insult His Majesty the King has been proven, will be punished with prison between one and three years.”

The law bans anyone from “extending his or her tongue at the king,” whether by a written, oral or electronic letter or by a photograph or caricature.

Similar laws exist in most Arab countries.

One of the journalists, Mamdouh Hamamreh – a correspondent for the local Al-Quds TV station – was taken into custody after posting a photo of the PA president on his Facebook page next to a picture of a Syrian actor who portrayed a spy in a popular Arab television series, Bab al-Hara.

The program takes place in the 1930s, when Syria was under French control and Palestine was occupied by Britain.

Hamamreh was charged in a PA court in Bethlehem with libel and slander against Abbas, in violation of the Jordanian law. Hamamreh denied that he posted the picture of the actor on his Facebook page, telling interrogators that someone else was responsible.

The journalist’s father told the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms that the PA intelligence officers who raided the family’s home confiscated two computers. Security officers also forced Hamamreh to give them the password to his Facebook account.

Sana Aranki, Hamamreh’s attorney, said her client had been denied family visits while in prison – and stressed that Hamamreh’s arrest was incompatible with PA laws. “When the Palestinian Intelligence Service arrested the journalist, they violated article 11 of the Palestinian Amended Law – which says that it is ‘unlawful to arrest, search, imprison, restrict the freedom, or prevent the movement of any person, except by judicial order.’” Aranki added that the charge of “extending the tongue” against the PA president on the basis of the Jordanian law was not valid because the system in the Palestinian territories is “presidential and not royal.”

The PA used the same law in December to arrest another journalist, George Qanawati, manager of Radio Bethlehem 2000. Qanawati was also accused of “extending his tongue” against the PA president, but was released five days later.

Sources in Bethlehem said that Qanawati was arrested for reporting about a dispute between Abbas and former Fatah security commander Muhammad Dahlan. Simmering tensions between the two men reached a peak last month when Fatah suspended Dahlan from official activities, and launched an investigation into his financial and other dealings.

Dahlan is currently being questioned by a special commission of inquiry created by Abbas on suspicion that he had been plotting to topple the PA regime in the West Bank. However, sources close to Dahlan say that the dispute erupted after he had been secretly recorded bad-mouthing Abbas and his two sons.

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