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President to pardon Facebook joker

Feb. 10, 2013 11:02 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 10, 2013 11:02 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas will pardon a 26-year-old man sentenced to a year in jail for insulting the president on Facebook, Abbas' legal adviser said Thursday.

"When the case falls within the president's jurisdiction, he will pardon the young man," Hassan al-Ouri told Ma'an.

Al-Ouri clarified that the charge against 26-year-old Anas Awwad was brought by the public rights department and not the president. Awwad still has the right to appeal, but he will be pardoned as soon as the decision by a Nablus magistrates court is final.

Awwad did not appear in court and was convicted in absentia of criticizing the government. His lawyer, Rima al-Sayyed, says her client was accused of photo-shopping a picture of Abbas wearing a Real Madrid shirt with the caption: "A new striker."

Abbas was angered at the sentence issued by the court, al-Ouri said.

Awwad's father had asked the president to intervene in the case.

"My son only commented on Facebook. You know how young people comment," he said. "He didn't mean to insult the president. I ask the president to intervene personally to cancel the court's decision."

Khalil Assaf, the director of the public freedoms committee within the stalled unity deal, called the sentence itself an insult to the president, not the supposed crime of criticizing him.

Assaf called on the court to reverse the ruling.

In 2012, Palestinian security forces jailed at least three people accused in separate incidents of criticizing the government on social networking websites.
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