Lawyer accused of ‘slandering’ PA as crackdown on activists continues

In the past five months, Karajah and his group have been waging a campaign on social media platforms in protest of the death of anti-corruption activist Nizar Banat.

 Palestinian demonstrators attend an anti-Palestinian Authority protest, forty days after the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah in the West Bank August 2, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Palestinian demonstrators attend an anti-Palestinian Authority protest, forty days after the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah in the West Bank August 2, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)

Mohannad Karajah, a prominent Palestinian lawyer, was interrogated on Wednesday by the Palestinian prosecutor-general in Ramallah on charges of stirring up sectarian strife, participating in an illegal gathering and slandering the Palestinian Authority.

The move is seen as a first step toward filing an indictment sheet against Karajah.

Karajah, an outspoken critic of the PA, heads a group called Lawyers For Justice, which monitors and documents human rights violations in the West Bank.

In the past five months, Karajah and his group have been waging a campaign on social media platforms in protest of the death of anti-corruption activist Nizar Banat, who was beaten to death by PA security officers in Hebron last June.

The group has since issued several statements condemning the killing of Banat and demanding that the perpetrators, who belong to the PA security forces, be prosecuted.

 Palestinian security officers stand guard during a trial of security officers (not seen) over the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of President Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah in the West Bank September 14, 2021.  (credit: REUTERS/ALI SAWAFTA) Palestinian security officers stand guard during a trial of security officers (not seen) over the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of President Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah in the West Bank September 14, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/ALI SAWAFTA)

Fourteen Palestinian security officers are currently standing trial before a PA military court in Ramallah for their roles in the killing of Banat, who was famous for posting videos on Facebook in which he accused Palestinian leaders and officials of embezzlement and financial and administrative corruption.

Earlier this week, Banat’s family announced that it had decided to withdraw its lawyer from the court hearings because it does not have confidence in the proceedings. The family also accused the defendants’ lawyer of verbally abusing its lawyer.

The killing of Banat, who is being described by some Palestinians as the “Khashoggi of Palestine,” sparked protests by many Palestinians, including human rights organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian political activists who took to the streets of Ramallah to demand justice for Banat were either beaten or arrested by Fatah thugs and PA security forces.

Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist, dissident and columnist who was assassinated by Saudi agents in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

After Wednesday’s interrogation, Karajah said he was questioned about his legal and human rights work.

“All Palestinian lawyers and human rights activists are being targeted,” he added. “Lawyers For Justice is not the only group being targeted by the Palestinian security agencies. This campaign coincides with the Israeli crackdown on Palestinian NGOs.”

Karajah said that he was told that the PA General Intelligence Service filed a complaint against him and Lawyers For Justice because of a post on Facebook. The post accused the PA security forces of holding a Palestinian activist in detention in violation of the law.

“As a lawyer and director of a human rights group, I’m shocked by the timing of these charges,” Karajah told reporters. “The General Intelligence Service is harassing lawyers and human rights activists who are documenting cases of Palestinian political detainees [targeted by the PA]. Our group seeks justice and an end to human rights violations.”

Karajah said that despite the complaint lodged by the General Intelligence Service, he will continue to seek justice for Banat and speak out against human rights violations by the PA security forces.

Palestinian human rights and political activists expressed solidarity with Karajah and accused the PA leadership of working to intimidate and silence its critics.

“There is no freedom of speech under the Palestinian Authority,” said political activist Ayman Hilmi. “Those who criticize the Palestinian Authority are either killed like Banat or prosecuted and intimidated like Karajah.”

Dozens of political activists have been arrested or summoned for interrogation by the PA security forces since the killing of Banat. At least 16 have been officially charged with fomenting sectarian strife and insulting senior Palestinian officials.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Lawyers For Justice accused the PA of cracking down on public freedoms, especially freedom of speech.

“These actions reflect the reality of what is happening on the street,” the group said. “There are arrests and serious abuses.”