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Praise for outgoing communications minister

April 27, 2012 8:29 P.M. (Updated: May 26, 2012 11:44 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The head of a commission to implement a 2011 unity deal between Fatah and Hamas has praised the outgoing communications minister standing against censorship in Palestine.

Eyad Sarraj said Thursday he was "astonished" the Palestinian Authority was censoring news websites, but he lauded Mashour Abu Daka's stance. The minister announced his resignation after criticizing the program and its alleged author, attorney general Ahmad al-Mughni.

"I'm astonished to hear the (Palestinian) Authority approved such measures. In the midst of the Arab Spring, we expect more openness to the world, yet there are others who want to take us backwards," said Sarraj, a Gaza psychiatrist and head of the commission formed under the May 2011 unity deal.

"A future Palestinian state will fail unless Palestinian society and the Palestinian people have full freedoms and human rights which will guarantee dignity and equality before the law," he said in a statement. "The Palestinian people have struggled and are still struggling for their freedom. They should not be rewarded with more siege and suppression -- especially not by their own people."

Abu Daka is expected to leave office May 1, citing personal reasons.

The decision was passed on to prime minister Salam Fayyad two weeks ago and accepted Thursday, he said, pointing out that it came amid rumors of an impending cabinet shuffle.

Hours before announcing his intention to step down, Abu Daka sharply criticized the attorney general for approving a plan to censor websites critical of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abu Daka told local radio the attorney general's decision was no different than other forms of mismanagement. Withholding information from the public is a form of corruption, he said.

"The Palestinian people, who fought and lost innumerable martyrs, have a right to know what's going on. What's happening now is an attempt to play them for fools," he said.

Several others in Palestine and abroad have expressed reservations, but Abu Daka's unequivocal condemnation placed him at odds with the attorney general. He accused al-Mughni of signing off on the initiative without judicial oversight or public scrutiny. Al-Mughni has denied involvement.

The minister's concerns were first disclosed Monday in a report by Ma'an on the secretive instructions to block up to eight websites thought to be loyal to former Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan.

Abu Daka and other officials say al-Mughni instructed the Palestinian Telecommunications Company to begin enforcing the orders early this year. PalTel's chief executive Ammar Aker says the company is obligated to cooperate with legal and regulatory orders from the Palestinian Authority.

In Jerusalem, a Palestinian Authority spokesman denied the government intended to begin censoring the Web, but he acknowledged "legislative gaps" leave some media vulnerable.

"The government believes in freedom of opinion and expression, in compliance with the Palestinian basic law," Ghassan Khatib told the Jerusalem-based Al-Quds newspaper. He conceded that provisions in the current media law were "outdated" and needed to be amended but said that until then, the government could not intervene in decisions made by the judiciary.

Also Thursday, a source in Fayyad's government told Agence France-Presse the Palestinian Authority was preparing a statement to elaborate on events leading up to Abu Daka's resignation.
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