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PA opens probe into 'events' at anti-PA rally where police assaulted protesters, journalists

March 13, 2017 4:38 P.M. (Updated: March 20, 2017 5:33 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said on Monday that he had appointed a fact-finding committee to investigate events which occurred during an anti-Palestinian Authority (PA) protest that took place on Sunday, in which police assaulted protesters and smashed equipment belonging to journalists covering the event.

Demonstrators had gathered in front of the Ramallah magistrate’s court during a hearing into an ongoing case against five Palestinian activists charged by the PA with weapons possession and planning an attack on Israel -- despite the fact that four of them are held in Israeli prison and one, Basel al-Araj, was shot dead by Israeli forces last week.

The case has been denounced by Palestinians for typifying the PA’s security coordination with Israel, which has been described by critics as a "revolving door policy" funneling Palestinians from PA jails into Israeli prisons.

Following outrage over the police brutality -- footage of which has been widely shared on social media despite attempts by security forces to block coverage -- Hamdallah said Monday that the committee would investigate what he called "events that took place near the court compound."

However, it remained unclear from Hamdallah's statement whether the committee would be focused on investigating protesters, police's excessive use of violence, or both. Hamdallah did not indicate whether a probe would also be opened into clashes that occurred in the Duheisha refugee camp on Sunday, where Palestinian security forces opened live fire in the direction of demonstrators.

The committee will be headed by Interior Ministry Undersecretary Muhammad Mansour, and would include director of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights Ammar Dweik, as well as Palestinian lawyers' union head Hussein Shabana.

According to a copy of Hamdallah’s order, the committee will commence investigations on Monday and is scheduled to submit recommendations to the prime minister in a week.

Before the announcement, Hamdallah met with Palestinian security service commanders in his office.

"Nobody is above the law -- that includes security officers," Hamdallah was quoted in a statement as saying during the meeting, adding that he "completely refuses any violation of freedom of speech and freedom of opinion," which are guaranteed under Palestinian basic law.

Hamdallah vowed that his government and Palestinian leadership would "remain committed to the protection of journalists," and bring "those who assaulted journalists" during the protests in Ramallah to justice.

The Palestinian prime minister also hosted head of the Palestinian journalists’ union Nasser Abu Bakr in his office on Monday, along with a delegation of journalists who arrived to discuss the police attack on journalists and protesters.

Hamdallah’s announcements came after Palestinian security forces spokesman Adnan al-Dmeiri denied reports that Ramallah chief of police Abd al-Latif al-Qaddumi had resigned in the wake of the protests, also denying that a number of police officers had been interrogated over the attacks.

International NGO Human Rights Watch released a report last August documenting violations against journalists and activists by Palestinian authorities, accusing forces of inflicting “harassment, intimidation, and physical abuse.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian press freedoms watchdog MADA expressed on Monday its “deep concern and strong condemnation” of police forces’ assault on journalists in the Ramallah protest, and called on authorities to “investigate the violation and hold perpetrators accountable,” while noting that perpetrators of such acts were rarely penalized by Palestinian authorities.

“MADA strongly condemns what journalists were exposed to this unjustified and excessive use of force that is breaching their rights listed under the Palestinian basic law, that guaranteed freedom of expression opinion and the right to assemble,” the organization added.

MADA has consistently reported that as a direct result of violations of freedom of expression by Palestinian authorities, Palestinian journalists and media workers routinely avoid reporting on certain topics and practice self censorship.

Violations against journalists documented by MADA have included “certain types of torture” and prosecuting journalists over reports in mainstream and social media channels.
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