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Bethlehem police free journalist pardoned by Abbas

March 30, 2013 9:43 A.M. (Updated: April 2, 2013 6:59 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) – Palestinian police late Friday released a journalist pardoned by President Mahmoud Abbas after a court upheld his year-long sentence for insulting the president on Facebook.

Mamdouh Hamamreh was released Friday night from a police detention center in Bethlehem a day after an appeals court upheld his sentence on charges of insulting the leadership.

Hamamreh, a correspondent for the Islamic Jihad-affiliated al-Quds satellite channel, was charged over a photo posted to Facebook juxtaposing Abbas beside a similar-looking man who played the part of a collaborator with French colonial forces in a Syrian television drama.

In Paris, a leading press rights group said Abbas' pardon of the reporter was a welcome development, but it said the case highlighted the need for reforms to Palestinian media law.

"We welcome this pardon but the fact remains that it depended on the president’s will," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement a day after Abbas pardoned Hamamreh.

"A Palestinian citizen can still be jailed for insulting President Abbas. We call for reform of the law so that news providers and ordinary citizens can no longer be sentenced to imprisonment on charges of this kind," it said.

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

Hamamreh was 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 offense and the president promptly pardoned him.
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