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UN expresses concern over arrest of activist Issa Amro, demands his release

Sept. 5, 2017 10:14 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 6, 2017 3:55 P.M.)
Farid al-Atrash, left, and Issa Amro at Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank on March 26, 2017 (HRW)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a statement on Tuesday, joining rights groups in demanding the release of prominent human rights activist Issa Amro, who was arrested by Palestinian security forces a day earlier for a Facebook post critical of Palestinian authorities’ crackdown on freedom of expression.

In a Facebook post Sunday evening, Amro, a Hebron-based coordinator for Youth Against Settlements and a former field researcher for the Israeli NGO B’Tselem, criticized the Palestinian Authority (PA) for arresting Ayman Qawsmeh, the director of the Hebron-based radio station Manbar al-Hurriya who was detained by the PA on Sunday, days after the radio station’s offices were raided and shut down by the Israeli army.

Local media reports said Qawsmeh’s arrest came after he called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to resign owing to their inability to protect Palestinians from Israeli violence.

Amro’s arrest was the latest of a string of incidents in which Palestinians have been arrested for voicing their opinions since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a far-reaching Cyber Crimes Law in June that has been widely denounced by human rights groups as an extreme attempt to criminalize dissent against the PA.

OHCHR expressed its “concern” over Amro’s detention and urged Amro’s release. OHCR highlighted that freedom of expression is guaranteed by international agreements, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Palestine ratified in 2014.

OHCHR declared Amro “human rights defender of the year in Palestine” in 2010.

According to a translation by Middle East Eye, Amro’s facebook post stated as follows:

There are journalists who are being threatened by the security forces for publishing the news about Ayman Qawasmeh's arrest. I hope that every journalist in the country publishes this news because it is true, 100 percent, not a rumor.

Secondly, I call on everyone who gets threatened to talk to me, so we can complain about these threats to the Europeans and document the illegal violations. Not everyone can create a law and a state for himself. The law is clear and not open to various interpretations, and everyone should respect it.

There is a journalist called Ayman Qawasmeh, and there is a judiciary, a civil society, a syndicate for journalists and activists who will stand with him. Security forces should protect the law, not violate it. Freedom to Ayman Qawasmeh.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) sharply denounced Amro’s detention on Tuesday, with the group’s Chair Hugh Lanning stating that “the Palestinian Authority should be defending and supporting human rights defenders like Issa, not arresting them for expressing their views online.”

After outlining Amro’s nonviolent resistance movement against settler-colonialism in his hometown of Hebron city in the southern occupied West Bank, the group stated that “No one should be arrested for expressing their democratic views,” and demanded his immediate release.

The human rights activist is known for advocating non-violent resistance and agitating on the international stage to raise awareness on Israel's routine human rights violation in the occupied Palestinian territory. He is facing 18 charges in Israeli military court related to his activism.

Amnesty International called Amro’s arrest by the PA “a shameless attack on freedom of expression” on Monday.

“It is outrageous that a prominent human rights defender has been arrested simply for voicing his opinion online. Criticizing the authorities should not be a criminal offence. Issa Amro’s arrest is the latest evidence that the Palestinian authorities are determined to continue with their repressive campaign against free speech,” Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Middle East director, said.

“We have seen an alarming escalation in the Palestinian authorities’ clampdown on freedom of expression in recent months. Instead of continuing to step up their efforts to quash dissenting voices, the Palestinian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Issa Amro and stop harassing and intimidating activists and others for daring to speak their minds freely.”

The human rights organization has highlighted “a chilling escalation in attacks on media and freedom of expression by both the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza, detaining a string of journalists and shutting down opposition websites.”

The PA’s new Cyber Crimes Law, issued by presidential decree in June, has been described by rights groups as “draconian” and “the worst law in the PA’s history,” for imposing jail time, hard labor, and fines for creating, publishing, and sharing information deemed dangerous by the PA.

The PA has also been the target of condemnation for its security coordination with Israeli forces -- particularly since Israel has long been criticized for suppressing Palestinians' freedom of expression, by imprisoning hundreds of journalists, activists, and average citizens for social media activity.
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