Abbas orders end to Internet crackdown

PA president lifts censorship of websites critical of him after public outcry; sites believed to be supported by Dahlan.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday instructed the Palestinian Authority attorney- general to stop the crackdown on freedom of expression and media and to stop blocking websites.
The decision follows widespread criticism of the PA leadership’s recent clampdown on journalists and bloggers in the West Bank.
PA security forces there have arrested at least nine Palestinian journalists, bloggers and anti-corruption activists in the past two months.
On the instructions of the PA Attorney-General Ahmed al-Mughni, Internet providers have blocked several websites that were critical of Abbas.
The affected sites were accused of being funded and backed by ousted Fatah official Muhammad Dahlan, one of Abbas’s chief rivals in the Palestinian territories.
Dahlan, a former security commander in the Gaza Strip, was expelled from Fatah on charges of corruption.
However, Dahlan’s supporters say he was targeted after criticizing Abbas and his two sons.
“President Abbas has issued clear instructions to all the Palestinian national security forces to work to ensure freedom of expression, which is a sacred right in accordance with the [Palestinian] Basic Law,” Abbas’s office in Ramallah said in a statement.
“His excellency has also instructed the attorney-general to lift a ban on all electronic websites and to halt any measure that contradicts freedom of media and information.”
The statement quoted Abbas as urging the media to be “objective” in covering events.
Abbas’s decision came in response to sharp criticism from the US, EU and Western human rights organizations, a Western diplomat and PA officials told The Jerusalem Post.
They said that US and EU diplomats and government officials had contacted Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to voice their deep concern over the clampdown on freedom of expression in PA-controlled territories.
The PA minister of communications Mashour Daka resigned two weeks ago in protest of the decision to block eight websites.
Daka blamed Mughni for the closure of the websites and said the decision was illegal.
Most of the Palestinian journalists and bloggers who were arrested during the crackdown were accused of “extending their tongues” against Abbas and top PA officials.
One of them, Yousef al-Shayeb, was arrested for exposing a corruption scandal in the PA Foreign Ministry.
Esmat Abdel Khalik, a female university lecturer and journalist, was arrested after a friend posted on her Facebook page a comment that denounced Abbas as a “traitor and fascist.” Blogger Jamal Abu Rihan was arrested after creating a Facebook group called “The people want an end to corruption.”