The Palestinian Authority on Monday urged Hamas to release all “political” detainees as required by PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s decree to boost public freedoms ahead of the general elections.
In opening remarks during the weekly meeting of the PA cabinet in Ramallah, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said more than 80 “political” detainees were being held in Hamas prisons in the Gaza Strip.
Most of the detainees belong to Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction, according to Palestinian sources.
In response to Shtayyeh’s call, Hamas denied that it was holding “political” detainees in its prisons. All the detainees and prisoners in Hamas prisons have been convicted of criminal or security offenses, the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Interior said in a statement.
Shtayyeh said there were no “political detainees” in PA prisons in the West Bank. “Public freedoms are safeguarded in accordance with the Palestinian Basic Law,” he said.
Last month, Hamas released four Fatah detainees. The move was described by Palestinians as a gesture of goodwill to ease tensions between Fatah and Hamas ahead of the planned elections.
“We demand the release of all the political detainees in the Gaza Strip in compliance with President Abbas’s decree,” Shtayyeh said. “The [PA] government will do its utmost to ensure the success of the democratic wedding, which will be held on the basis of public freedoms, pluralism and national partnership.”
The “democratic wedding” is the term Palestinians often use to describe elections.
On Saturday, Abbas issued a decree calling for reinforcing public freedoms in the West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections, set for May 22 and July 31.
The decree called for “establishing an atmosphere of public freedoms, including the freedom to practice political and national action.” It bans the detention or arrest or prosecution of Palestinians for reasons related to freedom of opinion and political affiliation.
Abbas’s decree also called for the immediate release of detainees held for practicing freedom of expression, political affiliation or for any other partisan reasons “in all the territories of Palestine.”
The decree was based on understandings reached earlier this month between Fatah, Hamas and several Palestinian factions in Cairo. The factions agreed on “mechanisms” for holding the general elections and emphasized the need to guarantee public freedoms in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to facilitate the electoral process.
PA security forces have in recent weeks detained or summoned for interrogation a number of Palestinians on suspicion of being affiliated with Hamas and posting critical comments on Facebook.
Hassan Asfour, editor of the Palestinian news website Amad, called on Abbas to rescind the PA’s 2019 decision to block 59 Palestinian news websites and social-media pages.
Noting that many Palestinians have welcomed Abbas’s decree to reinforce public freedoms, he said: “The question is, when will the implementation of the presidential decree begin? When will the prisoners be released, and when will the ban on the news websites and social-media accounts be lifted?”
Most of the websites and social-media pages are critical of the PA and Abbas, Palestinian human-rights groups and journalists said, adding that some belong to Hamas and deposed Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan, an archrival of the PA president.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate denounced the decision as a “black day” for Palestinian journalism.
The PA justified the ban by arguing that the blocked websites and social-media pages had published material that threatened security and civil peace, insulted symbols of the PA, disturbed public order and morals, and incited the public.