Dear President Mahmoud Abbas:
Rev. Johnny Shahwan is a Palestinian Evangelical Christian clergyman who lives in the Bethlehem area and ministers to the Christian community.
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On March 2, the Palestinian Authority arrested him, put him in prison, and shut down his ministry headquarters in Beit Jala.
To date, however, no formal charges against him have been filed.
The fact is that Shahwan has done nothing illegal or immoral.
A devout Christian and a loyal Palestinian, he has been unfairly accused.
Yet he remains in prison, and now a Palestinian judge has extended the pastor’s incarceration at least until May 23.
This is wrong – it is a violation of this Palestinian man’s human rights, civil rights and religious freedom.
The pastor is suffering. So is his wife, Marlene, and their family.
It is time to set Shahwan free – now.
The longer the imprisonment goes on, the more media attention the story will receive, harming the Palestinian Authority’s reputation for grossly violating an innocent Palestinian Christian’s rights.
Appeals will mount for US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Vatican, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and other friends of the Palestinian Authority around the world to intervene, requesting that they apply pressure on you to correct this injustice immediately.
Why wait? Why not set this innocent Palestinian citizen free today?
WHY WAS PASTOR SHAHWAN ARRESTED?
Mr. President, here is the back story to how Shahwan was arrested in the first place.
Shahwan, a pastor who runs the Beit Al-Liqa (House of Encounter) in the town of Beit Jala, just outside Bethlehem, was arrested for meeting with a Jew who previously served as a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.
Beit Al-Liqa, which includes a guest house and a child daycare center, was shut down by the PA security forces for allegedly hosting the meeting between Shahwan and Yehuda Glick, a rabbi, politician and activist, who was a member of the Knesset representing the Likud Party.
The next day, unidentified gunmen fired several shots at the center in protest of the meeting between the pastor and the rabbi. No one was hurt.
The pastor was arrested shortly after many Palestinians expressed outrage over the meeting he held at Beit Al-Liqa with the American-born Glick. The Palestinians accused Shahwan of promoting normalization with the “Zionist entity” and welcoming an “extremist Zionist settler” into the center in Beit Jala.
A statement issued by Beit Al-Liqa on March 2, 2022 claimed that Shahwan and the other Palestinians were not aware of Glick’s identity when they opened the center’s doors to him. The statement [said] that Glick had sneaked into the center with a group of visitors: “Beit Al-Liqa hosted a group of German tourists… At the end of the meeting with Pastor Johnny Shahwan, an unidentified person [Glick] suddenly walked in and asked to take a ‘selfie’ with Shahwan and the tourists. We were not aware of the presence of this extremist Zionist person, and he was not part of the group’s itinerary.”
Abu Toameh went on to report that “appeals by heads of the Christian community in Bethlehem for the release of Shahwan from prison have been completely ignored by the PA leadership, which appears afraid of a backlash from Islamists and other radical groups if it dares to release the pastor.”
TIME TO ACT
Mr. President, no Palestinian citizen – Christian or Muslim – should have his or her rights violated by the Palestinian Authority.
If you and other members of the PA are able to meet with Israeli officials and citizens, it should not be a crime for a Palestinian citizen to meet with one.
But in this case, Shahwan did not even intend to meet an Israeli. He was simply showing hospitality to a group of foreign tourists, and to a stranger that he did not know and had not invited into his house of worship.
It’s time to act, sir.
Please set Shahwan free today, and end his suffering, his family’s suffering and his community’s suffering.
Palestinians face enough troubles in this difficult world.
This editorial was originally published here.