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HRW: Palestinian authorities cracking down on activists, journalists

Aug. 31, 2016 2:45 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 10, 2016 5:06 P.M.)
Graffiti that rappers were accused of spraying on a wall in Ramallah: “The Intifada continues,” May 31, 2016. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- International NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report Tuesday  documenting violations against journalists and activists by Palestinian authorities both in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, saying that both governments have been accused of inflicting “harassment, intimidation, and physical abuse” on detainees.

The group documented five cases across the occupied territory in which two journalists, an activist, and two rap musicians were detained for criticizing authorities. According to the statement, four of those detained were physically abused or tortured while in custody.

The group stated that the recent violations of freedom of speech represented a larger pattern by Palestinian authorities which has been documented by the group over the past five years. However, the group noted that progress has been made in the West Bank for activists and journalists detained by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The cases documented by HRW included an activist in the besieged Gaza Strip who was detained by Hamas officials after criticizing the government for “failing to protect a man with a mental disability.”

Another case focused on a Palestinian journalist who was detained after posting a photo of “a woman looking for food in a garbage bin” in order to highlight the dire economic situation in the besieged enclave, while another journalist had accused a public hospital of medical malpractice after a newborn baby died.

Meanwhile, in the PA-controlled West Bank, authorities detained activists and rap musicians for criticizing the PA’s well-known security cooperation with Israel, while also accusing the government of corruption.

According to HRW, the activists told the group that security officers “beat or kicked them, deprived them of sleep and proper food, hosed them with cold and then hot water, and made them maintain uncomfortable positions for long hours.”

In the Gaza Strip, security officials reportedly forced two detainees to “sign commitments not to criticize the authorities without proper evidence.”

The report highlighted that the cases of activists and journalists being abused while in Palestinian custody contradicted the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the PA ratified in 2014, while also violating domestic Palestinian laws which protect freedom of speech.

“At a time when many Palestinians are critical of their leaders, the crackdowns have a chilling effect on public debate in the traditional news media, and on social media” the report read.

HRW report comes a few days after the Palestinian press freedoms watchdog MADA reported that Israeli violations against media freedoms in the occupied Palestinian territory had continued to rise at a rapid pace over the first half of 2016.

The increase came even after the group reported an “unprecedented” increase in violations throughout 2015 -- “the highest ever to be monitored in Palestine” since the group started monitoring violations against media freedoms more than a decade ago.

MADA General Director Moussa Rimawi said in the semi-annual report that while the total number of violations by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities declined from 224 in the first half of 2015 to 198 in the first half of this year -- a rate of 12 percent -- Israeli violations continued to climb, while Palestinian authorities committed 41 percent less violations during the same period.

A total of 133 violations committed by Israel were recorded, compared to 43 in the occupied West Bank and 22 in the blockaded Gaza Strip committed by Palestinian authorities.

Despite the fact that Palestinian violations were fewer and less severe than those committed by Israeli authorities, MADA noted that as a direct result of violations by Palestinian authorities, Palestinian journalists and media workers “avoid addressing several topics” and practiced self censorship.

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