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Palestinian human rights groups 'gravely concerned' over ongoing death threats to staff

Aug. 14, 2016 5:50 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 15, 2016 4:50 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) said in a press release on Sunday that they were “gravely concerned” over an ongoing smear campaign and mounting threats by Israeli authorities and associated groups directed at employees of PHROC member organizations.

The statement came after reports emerged that human rights lawyer Nada Kiswanson, who represents Palestinian NGO Al-Haq before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, had been receiving death threats since February, Dutch newspaper NRC reported on Wednesday.

The report revealed the threats referred specifically to Kiswanson’s work with the ICC, rousing suspicions that Israeli security services may have been involved in the attack, according to the newspaper.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to NRC regarding the allegations.

Kiswanson told Reuters the threats came by email, via family members, and in the form of flower deliveries to her home with accompanying messages.

“When she purchased an anonymous prepaid mobile phone number, she received a threat on it a day later. Messages had come in Dutch, English and ‘broken Arabic,’” Reuters reported.

Dutch authorities have since confirmed they were investigating threats against Kiswanson.

“These threats are part of a systematic and planned campaign that began in mid-2015, with the intent to disrupt the work of organizations, defame them, and impact their funding,” the PHROC statement published on Sunday by the Al-Mezan Center For Human Rights said.

The PHROC statement followed widespread international condemnation of the attacks, with Amnesty International saying it was “shocked” by the fact Kiswanson and her family’s email accounts had been hacked, calling the the threats “completely unacceptable.”

Palestinian human rights organizations which have been the targets of cyber attacks and threats over recent months include Al-Haq, Al-Mezan, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), and the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights (Badil).

A number of human rights workers have received death threats and intimidation from anonymous sources, while funders and local and international partners of the rights groups have also been contacted in an attempt to discredit them, PHROC said.

“The attacks come as a result of the organizations' work to ensure accountability for Israel's grave violations of international law. Notably, attacks escalated following the organizations’ submission to the ICC for its preliminary examination of the situation in Palestine.”

Since the start of 2015, the ICC has been conducting a preliminary examination of possible crimes committed by both sides during Israel’s devastating 2014 offensive against the Gaza Strip.

In November, Al-Haq, Al-Mezan, Addameer, and PCHR delivered a confidential communication to the ICC on crimes jointly documented by the four groups during the war. A second communication followed in February.

Badil also published key findings on Israel’s alleged war crimes during the Gaza war that the group submitted to the International Criminal Court in March.

After reporting in March that both their Europe representative and director had been receiving death threats for months, Al-Haq said in June that despite the outpouring of international solidarity and support, attempts to intimidate the group had "continued and broadened.”

PHROC in their statement called on the relevant local and international authorities to conduct immediate investigations into the ongoing threats “against human rights organizations and their staff members in OPT (occupied Palestinian territory) and abroad.”

“PHROC will follow up on this matter by reaching out to representative offices, UN bodies, and local and international partners,” adding that the groups “will continue its work at the ICC in order to ensure accountability for crimes committed in the OPT.”

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