Thursday, July 09, 2020

Palestinian Authority bans nearly 60 websites critical of the government

By Yehudit Tzfat - October 29, 2019
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [press freedom]

The Palestinian Authority (PA) blocked 59 websites and social media pages critical of President Mahmoud Abbas’ government in an alleged crackdown on opposition and press freedom. 

The PA accused the banned websites of insulting PA officials and disrupting “national security” and “civil peace”. The websites included independent news organisations, pro-Hamas outlets, those opposing the PA and webpages favouring Abbas’ ex-rival, Mohammad Dahlan. 

Among those targeted are Quds News Network and Shehab News Agency. The sites were blocked throughout the West Bank, with mixed accounts in the Gaza Strip. Reports indicated that some users in Gaza could access the prohibited websites. 

On 17 October, Ramallah Magistrate Court ordered telecommunications companies and internet service providers to ban the websites following a request from the Attorney General in compliance with Article 39 of the cybercrime law, which permits the blocking of websites if they are considered to "threaten the national security, civil peace, public order or public morals”.

Numerous organisations denounced the ban as an impediment to digital freedom. A group of local journalists demonstrated in front of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate office in Gaza, rejecting the move as a violation of press rights. 

“What is needed is to honour the Palestinian journalist and the media, who have long been fighting the Israeli narrative,” Alaa Salama, coordinator of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, said. “The correct measure is to block Israeli media and news sites which spread poison daily to the Palestinian people.”

Hossam Badran, a member of the Hamas Political Bureau, also condemned the ban, saying the PA is “burying its head in the sand in its attempts to prevent freedom of expression, returning the national press to the darkness sought by the Israeli occupation”. 

Some critics linked the online censorship to the recent uprising in Lebanon. Samidoun, the Palestinian prisoner solidarity network, said the government’s “decision to block websites reveals its fear of a popular explosion against it similar to the Arab revolutions, the latest of which is Lebanon”.

The Committee to Protect Journalists demanded an immediate lifting of the ban. And the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor sent a letter to the United Nations, demanding they intervene to stop alleged violations to freedom of expression in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 

“PA must unblock access to all banned sites immediately, end the trails of journalists charged with criticising it and repeal the cybercrime law, or review it to ensure its compatibility with relevant international laws and human rights,” the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said. 

The Palestinian Commission for Human Rights announced it will appeal the ruling.



Lead image: Demonstrations in the Gaza Strip against the Palestinian Authority's decision to block the websites (MEE)

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