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UN rep, rights group demand Hamas 'protect freedom of expression' in Gaza

Jan. 13, 2017 2:37 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 16, 2017 11:03 A.M.)
Adel al-Mashwakhi
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) released a statement Thursday condemning the arrest of a Palestinian comedic personality in Gaza on Wednesday following his criticism of the ruling Hamas movement’s handling of the dire power crisis in the coastal enclave, while a UN respresentative also urged the Hamas government to protect the right to protest and to resolve the electricity crisis.

Adel al-Mashwakhi was arrested by military police in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah after he posted a video on his Facebook page criticizing the Hamas movement, “as many civilians have done, due to the aggravating power crisis” suffered by Gazans for a decade, the statement said.

“PCHR emphasizes that the right to freedom of opinion and expression is guaranteed under the Palestinian Basic Law and intentional human rights standards. PCHR also demands strictly complying with the Criminal Procedure Code when summoning any person.”

Since it was published, al-Mashwakhi’s video has been viewed by more than 500,000 people, according to PCHR. The group added that Wednesday marked the third time al-Mashawkhi has been arrested by security forces in Gaza.

“He was arrested twice last year, the first of which was by the Internal Security Service when Adel was subjected to investigation and torture, while the second was by the Military Police. Both arrests were on grounds of criticizing Hamas Movement.”

“PCHR emphasizes that the repeated summonses of opinion makers without any legal justification or explicit charge and arbitrarily subjecting them to undue procedures constitute a blatant violation of public freedoms and clear abuse of power.”

PCHR concluded their statement by calling upon the security services in Gaza “to respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression that is constitutionally guaranteed under the international human rights standards,” and for the Attorney General to investigate the arrest and “establish the facts in order to hold those responsible accountable.”

Separately, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov released a statement on Friday saying that he was following the “tense situation” in Gaza “with great concern.”

“I call for the full respect of the right to freedom of expression, peaceful protest and assembly in Gaza. All responsible authorities must cooperate to resolve the electricity crisis immediately.”

Mladenov’s statement came in the wake of al-Mashwakhi’s detention, as well as reports of Gaza security forces assaulting journalists during protests in Gaza on Thursday, and the detention of a Fatah leader in northern Gaza.

Protests and clashes have erupted in the besieged coastal enclave over the past two days, as residents call on all relevant authorities to find a permanent solution to the protracted issue, which has seriously affected Palestinians suffering under the nearly decade-long Israeli blockade.

In a statement released Saturday, Gaza’s electricity company said that most districts of the small Palestinian territory were only receiving power for three-hour intervals in between 12-hour power cuts, due to severe fuel shortages.

Even at full capacity, Egyptian and Israeli electricity grids, together with Gaza's sole power plant, fail to cover the Gaza Strip’s energy needs.

The Hamas movement released a statement on Friday holding the government of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its president Mahmoud Abbas responsible for crisis, claiming that it was “intentional” and aimed “to close the siege on Gaza and create chaos.”

Hamas -- the de facto ruling party in Gaza -- has governed the Gaza Strip since winning the majority of votes in a 2006 election in the besieged coastal enclave, which erupted into a violent conflict between the movement and their rivals Fatah as they both attempted to consolidate control over the small Palestinian territory.

Following Hamas’ election victory and subsequent takeover of Gaza, Israel imposed a crippling blockade on the territory in 2007. The Israeli government considers the entire Hamas movement, and thus Gaza's government, to be a "terrorist organization."

As the blockade enters its 10th year, and the population of Gaza exceeds 2 million Palestinians according to UN estimates, the severe electricity shortages have exacerbated the already dire living conditions in the small Palestinian territory.

War has also taken its toll, and during Israel's 50-day offensive on Gaza in 2014, the power plant was targeted, completely knocking it out of commission.

The UN has warned that the Gaza Strip would become uninhabitable for residents by 2020, pointing to the devastation of war and nearly a decade of Israel's blockade.
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