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AG: Web blocking for legal, security reasons

April 29, 2012 9:30 A.M. (Updated: May 26, 2012 11:44 A.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Attorney General Ahmad al-Mughni on Sunday defended the blocking of websites by the Palestinian Authority, in his first public comments since the furor over Internet censorship erupted last week.

Communications Minister Mashour Abu Daka, who has since resigned, blamed the secretive initiative to block news sites critical of President Mahmoud Abbas on al-Mughni, who he said "made up his own laws" to justify it.

In a statement Sunday, al-Mughni confirmed that some sites had been blocked for legal reasons, after "individuals" filed complaints against them for launching personal attacks. Others were censored for security reasons, as they contain information on bomb-making, he said.

Without an Internet law in the West Bank, al-Mughni said he dealt with the news sites in relation to a 1995 Press and Publications Law and the 1960 Penal Code.

Many of the blocked sites have been described as loyal to Muhammad Dahlan, a former Fatah leader and critic of Abbas, drawing criticism that the move appeared to be politically motivated.

'Do it quietly'

The attorney general also hit back at the outgoing communications minister, saying Abu Daka himself had filed a complaint against an unnamed website for a personal attack.

Al-Mughni criticized the timing of the minister's resignation, calling on officials "who want to resign to do it quietly, without linking it to rumors and fabrication unrelated to the law."

Linking his resignation to the Web blocking is an exaggeration, the attorney general charged, adding, "Why then didn't he resign months ago right when the websites were blocked?"

In any case the entire cabinet resigned in February 2011, he added.

Abu Daka said he was standing down for personal reasons shortly after publicly condemning the Palestinian Authority initiative to censor opposition websites earlier this year.

Human rights groups and Palestinian officials have also slammed the initiative.

On Saturday, the president's advisor on Internet affairs expressed concern and a top PLO official called on the Palestinian Authority to reverse the decision.

The advisor, Sabri Saidam, told the official news agency in Ramallah that the decision gave the impression the Palestinian Authority was seeking to "muzzle" dissent and freedom of expression. Such efforts are also futile because many Palestinians use Israeli Internet companies, Saidam told Wafa.

He cited an absence of legislation protecting online rights, but said the government ought to nevertheless avoid using its powers to "muzzle people's mouths and block freedom of opinion."

Saidam said he would meet with the attorney general to discuss the blocked websites.
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