Palestinian Authority facing widespread criticism for blocking websites

Palestinian sources said that the PA security forces and senior officials in Ramallah were behind the decision to block the websites and social media pages.

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October 23, 2019 17:31
2 minute read.
Palestinian Authority facing widespread criticism for blocking websites

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses Arab journalists in Ramallah on July 3. (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

Palestinian journalists on Wednesday protested a decision by a Palestinian Authority court to block dozens of websites and social media accounts and called for rescinding the order.

The protest, organized by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), took place in front of the Palestinian High Judicial Council offices in Ramallah.

The PA Magistrate’s Court, which last week issued the order to block 59 websites and social media pages at the request of the Palestinian Attorney General, is scheduled on Thursday to look into several appeals filed against the decision.

Palestinian sources said that the PA security forces and senior officials in Ramallah were behind the decision to block the websites and social media pages.

PJS chairman Nasser Abu Bakr, who participated in the protest, expressed hope that the court would overturn the order, which mainly targets websites and social media pages deemed critical of the PA and its leaders.

Most of the websites and social media pages are affiliated with Hamas and Mohammed Dahlan, a former PA security commander and senior Fatah official who is an outspoken critic of Abbas. Dahlan, who has been living in the United Arab Emirates for the past eight years, is believed to be funding several websites that regularly criticize Abbas and the PA and accuse them of financial and administrative corruption.

“The Palestinian journalist is the voice of truth,” Abu Bakr said. “The authorities should reward the Palestinian press instead of blocking and suppressing it.”

The protest against the court order, he added, will continue until it is reversed.

Earlier, the PJS denounced the order as a “black day in the history of Palestinian journalism.”

PA Magistrate’s Court judge Mohammed Hussein, who issued the order, said that the websites have “published photos and articles on the Internet that threaten national security and civil peace and disrupt public order and public morals, in addition to evoking public opinion.”

PA Attorney General Akram al-Khatib defended the court order, saying it came after his office received complaints against the websites, some of which are anonymously managed and their sources of funding are unknown.”

The PA government has also come out against the move. The government said that while it honors international conventions that guarantee and protect pubic freedoms, it also “highly respects the independence of the judicial system.”

The PA government also called on all websites and social media pages to “adopt professional and ethical standards in reporting the news.”

The PLO said that the court order was not consistent with the Palestinians’ “commitment toward international conventions it has signed onto.”

PLO Executive Committee member Ahmed Tamimi said that “regardless of the content of the websites, the order also contravenes the Palestinian Basic Law.” He called on the PA to rescind the decision, “which is inconsistent with our endeavor to build a civil society with justice, freedom and democratic values so that we can face the current challenges in our struggle with the occupation.”

Several Palestinian academics, human rights organizations and political factions have strongly condemned the decision to block the websites and social media pages, saying it violates the Palestinian Basic Law and is a blatant assault on freedom of expression.

Many Palestinians, meanwhile, have launched an online campaign against the order under the hashtag #BlockingisACrime. They accused Abbas and the PA leadership of seeking to silence their critics.


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