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President pardons journalist jailed over insult

March 28, 2013 9:33 P.M. (Updated: April 9, 2013 9:14 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas has pardoned a journalist whose year-long sentence for insulting him on Facebook was upheld earlier Thursday.

Abbas' office said in a statement that the president had pardoned Mamdouh Hamamreh, a correspondent for al-Quds satellite channel, hours after a Bethlehem court rejected the reporter's appeal against the jail term.

Hamamreh was charged over a photo posted to Facebook juxtaposing Abbas beside a similar-looking man who plays the part of a collaborator with French colonial forces in an old Syrian television drama.

"They resemble each other in everything," a caption read.

Journalists and media watchdogs, saying Hamamreh was only "tagged" in the photo and did not create it, criticized the ruling and curbs on media freedom by the Palestinian Authority.

"(Hamamreh) didn't even publish the picture. When images online are criminalised, it's a very serious violation of basic rights of expression," said Riham Abu Aita of Mada, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms.

"We don't have a king, we have a president," she said.

Hamamreh is the second Palestinian to be pardoned for insulting Abbas this year.

A court in the northern West Bank city of Nablus in February sentenced a local man to a year in prison for creating a picture of Abbas to make him look like a football player, and entitled it "the new striker for Real Madrid".

Anas Awad, 26, denied he had intended any offence and the president promptly pardoned him.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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