Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a ceremony marking the 54th anniversary of Fatah's founding, in Ramallah on December 31.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Palestinian Authority released a prominent anti-corruption activist on Monday, one day after he was detained by PA security forces.
The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) said that Fayez al-Sweiti, of Hebron, was released on bail at the request of its lawyer. The detention drew strong condemnations from Palestinian political and human rights activists, who accused the PA of working to silence and intimidate its critics.
Sweiti, who heads a group called Hand in Hand Toward a Homeland Free of Corruption, was detained hours after a pre-dawn raid on his home in the town of Dura, near Hebron, said his son, Saeb.
About 20 security officers belonging to the PA’s Preventive Security Force raided the family’s home and confiscated books, documents, a computer and mobile phone belonging to Sweiti, the son added.
According to information obtained by the family, he said, his father was detained after reporting to the PA police in Ramallah hours after the raid on his home.
The son said he believes his father was taken into custody in connection with a document published on social media last week, which accuses Hussein al-Sheikh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee and head of the PA’s General Authority of Civil Affairs, of financial corruption.
The PA said over the weekend that the document is forged, and denied the allegations against Sheikh. The document claims, among other things, that Sheikh abused his power to collect money from Palestinian businessmen and purchase land near Ramallah at the cost of one million dollars.
The Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission said that the document, which was allegedly addressed to it, was forged. It warned the Palestinian public to display caution regarding similar charges published on social media.
The document allegedly implicating Sheikh surfaced days after social media users revealed that the former PA government had approved a $2,000 raise in salaries of its ministers.
The leaks have embarrassed the PA leadership, whose officials confirmed the authenticity of the documents, but pointed out that the decision to raise the salaries of the ministers was taken by the former government in 2017.
Many Palestinians expressed outrage over the salary hike, saying it came at a time when Palestinians are facing economic hardship and amid claims that the PA is facing a sharp financial crisis.
Sweiti established his anti-corruption group in 2014 and registered it with the PA Ministry of Interior as a nonprofit organization.
The group’s declared goals are the “promotion of the concept of accountability, transparency and community participation, as well as identifying obstacles that hinder the serious fight against corruption.”
Sweiti was detained after he shared on his Facebook page the document that accused Sheikh of financial corruption. Commenting on the document, he wrote: “Let the people issue their verdict before the courts decide.” He also wrote that the Palestinians have lost confidence in the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission.
Shortly before his detention, Sweiti accused Sheikh, the senior Fatah official, of threatening to kill him for sharing the controversial document on Facebook.
“The thugs of Hussein al-Sheikh are threatening to physically eliminate me,” he charged in another Facebook post. “They called the director of the Preventive Security Force in Hebron, who told me to head to the prosecutor’s office in Ramallah. I asked him whether he was aware of the threat to kill me, and whether he could protect me. I also asked him whether he was aware that Hussein al-Sheikh has 400 gunmen who are waiting for the day Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) dies to take over the presidency.”
Munir al-Jaghoub, head of Fatah’s Information Department, claimed on Sunday that the increased talk about corruption in the PA was linked to its rejection of US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the “Deal of the Century.”
“There are urgent attempts to make it seem as if we are living in an oasis of corruption,” Jaghoub said, referring to what he called “forged documents” published on social media. “They are trying to portray us as corrupt and thieves.”
Noting that US presidential adviser Jason Greenblatt had recently commented on the PA government’s decision to give its ministers lavish payouts, the senior Fatah official said: “If Greenblatt, who cut financial aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) and halted funding of [east Jerusalem] hospitals, is keen on solving corruption problems, how come he doesn’t talk about the corruption of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu?”
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