The Palestinian Authority police on Friday night released Palestinian journalist Mamdouh Hamamreh from prison, one day after he had been sentenced to one year in prison for insulting PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook.
On Thursday, a PA court in Bethlehem upheld a one-year prison sentence imposed earlier on Hamamreh after convicting him of publishing a photo on Facebook comparing Abbas to a villain and traitor who appeared in a popular Syrian TV production.
Hamamreh, who works as a correspondent for Al-Quds TV in the West Bank, was first arrested by the Palestinian security forces shortly after the photo appeared on Facebook in 2010. He was freed on bail until he was re-arrested last Thursday following the court decision.
Hamamreh has denied responsibility for the photo, arguing that he had only been "tagged" by some else who shared it with Facebook friends.
Hamamreh was found guilty of insulting Abbas, "spreading seeds of hatred" and "publishing false information."
Shortly after Hamamreh was sent to prison, Abbas's office issued a statement saying the the PA president had been "disturbed" when he learned about the court ruling.
An aide to Abbas said that the PA president was not involved in the case and had never filed a complaint against the journalist.
The aide said that Abbas decided to pardon the journalist, who was released the following day.
"I want to thank all those who contributed to my released from prison," Hamamreh said upon his return to his home. "I'm confidant that the journalistic profession would not be tarnished by this affair."
The court verdict against Hamamreh drew sharp protests from Palestinian journalists and human rights activists who accused the PA leadership of exploiting the judicial system to silence critics and Facebook users.
Hamamreh was the second Palestinian to be imprisoned for insulting Abbas on Facebook since the beginning of this year.
In February, a PA court in Nablus sentenced 26-year-old Anas Awwad, a university student, to one year in prison fro positing a photo depicting Abbas as a Real Madrid player. Awwad too was later pardoned by Abbas.
Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group defending journalists worldwide, said it was relieved that Abbas pardoned Hamamreh.
"We welcome this pardon but the fact remains that it depended on the president's will," the group said. "A Palestinian citizen can still be jailed for insulting President Abbas. We call for reform of the laws hay news providers and ordinary citizens can no longer be sentenced to imprisonment on charges of this kind."