Birzeit University student and journalist Bara al Qadi was imprisoned and tortured in 2015 for criticizing the PA. (Youtube/Screenshot) (Youtube/Screenshot)
Bara al Qadi

Pro-Palestinian groups around the world claim to care about Palestinians and advocate for their “rights.” One wonders how they feel about Palestinian security forces arresting journalists who express their views on social media.

By Khaled Abu Toameh, The Gatestone Institute

While the Palestinian Authority (PA) appears to have suspended security coordination with Israel in accordance with PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s May 18 announcement, it has not ended its long-time policy of harassing, intimidating and arresting Palestinian journalists.

By suspending the security coordination, Abbas is actually emboldening his political enemies and paving the way for Hamas to unseat him — as they did in the Gaza Strip in 2007 and as they have apparently been planning to do again in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

One of the main goals of the security coordination between the PA security forces and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had been to prevent Abbas’s rivals in Hamas from undermining his rule over parts of the West Bank.

Abbas’s Fatah faction has revealed that Hamas members detained by the PA security forces have admitted to planning the coup.

Israel’s security forces also revealed, in 2014, that Hamas has been planning to destabilize the area through a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Israel , then end by toppling the PA.

Now that Abbas has suspended security coordination with Israel, he appears to have more time to go after Palestinian journalists in order to deter them and others from speaking out against the Palestinian leadership. Instead of working with Israel to prevent Hamas from killing him, Abbas is devoting his time and energies to persecuting and silencing journalists.

The latest victim of his crackdown is Sami Al-Sa’i, a Palestinian journalist from the West Bank city of Tulkarem. On June 9, the PA security forces arrested Al-Sa’i from the center of Tulkarem and brought him before the Palestinian Public Prosecution, which extended his detention for 48 hours. On June 11, the PA Magistrate Court extended Al-Sai’s detention for a period of 15 days pending the investigation.

The reason given for the journalist’s detention: Violating the Palestinian Cybercrime Law by publishing news on social media platforms.

The Palestinian news website Ultra Sawt cited an anonymous PA security source as saying that Al-Sa’i was being interrogated about postings on a Facebook page.

Firas Karajeh, a lawyer with the Palestinian Center for the Development and Media Freedom (MADA) who is following the issue of Al-Sai’s arrest and attended the June 11 court session, said that the charges are related to freedom of expression and the practice of journalistic work. Al-Sa’i denied any connection with the publications attributed to him and said that his arrest could seriously harm him, but, according to MADA, the judge decided to extend the arrest for 15 days.

According to a statement by MADA:

“Journalist Sami Al-Sa’i expressed to MADA’s lawyer his concern and fears of being subjected to physical or psychological abuse during his detention and interrogation, especially since he was previously exposed to this in a previous arrest… ‘MADA’ condemns the arrest of Al-Sa’i, calls for his release, and warns of being subjected to torture… MADA renews its demand for the necessity of working to amend the Cybercrime Law that exploits some of its articles, especially Article 39, to pursue journalists and activists, which affect media freedoms and freedom of expression.”

Al-Sai’s fear of being subjected to torture is not unjustified. In 2017, he was arrested by the PA security forces after posting critical comments on Facebook against the Palestinian leadership.

Upon his release, Al-Sa’i said he had been tortured by his Palestinian interrogators. “They used to tie my hands behind my back with a rope,” he recounted. “They also hung me with a rope from the ceiling of the cell. They slapped me on the face and dragged me with a rope, telling me to walk like a dog.”

Back then, MADA said that Al-Sa’i was exposed to torture in order to obtain information or a confession, causing him psychological and physical pain and suffering:

“The case of Sami [Al-Sa’i] and what he was exposed to drove concern regarding the attempts of Palestinian Security Services in West Bank, and Gaza Strip of torturing Palestinian Journalists, that may enhance the intimidation of journalists and the practice of self-censorship…”

MADA also called on the PA to launch an investigation into the torture and ill-treatment of Al-Sa’i and other Palestinian journalists.

Not only has the PA completely ignored MADA’s demand for investigating Al-Sai’s complaint, but it has since pursued its repressive measures against Palestinian journalists, including Al-Sa’i.

Last year, the PA blocked access to 59 Palestinian websites for allegedly “threatening national security and civil peace, insulting symbols of the Palestinian Authority, disturbing public order and morals, and inciting public opinion.” The blocked websites were known for their criticism of the Palestinian leadership and its policies.

Al-Sa’i is the second Palestinian journalist arrested by the PA security forces in the West Bank in the past few weeks.

Last month, the PA security forces arrested journalist Anas Hawari, also from Tulkarem, on suspicion of “insulting” a Palestinian security officer. When Hawari appeared in court, he had bruises all over his body, including stitches in his head. He told the court that he had been beaten by Palestinian security officers during and after his arrest.

Earlier this year, the PA security forces arrested another journalist, Mohammed Mona, a resident of the village of Zawata in the West Bank. Mona’s family said the security officers who raided their home confiscated his mobile phone and a camera. The PA did not give any reason why Mona was arrested.

In 2019, the PA security services arrested at least 10 Palestinian journalists in different parts of the West Bank. During the same period, several other Palestinian journalists were summoned for interrogation.

The PA security crackdown on Palestinian journalists really started to intensify after the enactment of the Cybercrime Law in 2017. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights has described the law as the “worst law on freedom of opinion and expression” because it allows the PA security services to “suppress the freedom of press investigations and its ability to detect any corruption, under the pretext that it may affect national security and public order in one way or another.”

These are extraordinary violations of press freedoms and freedom of expression. Perpetrated anywhere else in the world, the international community would be up in arms. Because they are being committed by Palestinians against Palestinians, however — and because the Palestinian leadership has not yet found a way to blame Israel for these particular crimes — the torture of a Palestinian journalist is considered a no-news story.

“Pro-Palestinian” groups around the world claim to care about Palestinians, and advocate for their “rights.” One wonders how they feel about Palestinian security forces arresting journalists who express their views on social media. We do not know how pro-Palestinian groups feel about the abuse: they never object to it. What they only seem to find objectionable is Israel. No wonder Palestinian leaders feel they have a green light to continue persecuting journalists and anyone else who utters a word against Abbas and his associates.

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