Posted tagged ‘Palestinian journalists’

Abbas: Shut Up or I will Arrest You!

July 17, 2017

Abbas: Shut Up or I will Arrest You!, Front Page Magazine, Khaled Abu Toameh, July 17, 2017

Critics say the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Cyber Crime Law, which permits the imprisonment of Palestinians for “liking” or sharing published material on the internet, paves the way for the emergence of a “police state” in PA-controlled territories in the West Bank. They also argue that the law aims to silence criticism of Abbas and the PA leadership.

“What is laughable is that this law carries penalties that are tougher than those imposed on thieves and sex offenders… the law, in its present form, is designed to limit the freedom of the media and punish people for simple matters.” — Journalist in Ramallah.

This latest dictatorial move in the PA-controlled territories might also serve to remind the international community about the current readiness of the Palestinian leadership for statehood, and what such statehood would look like. In its current incarnation, that state would fit in just fine with its brutal Arab neighbors.

A new Palestinian law combating information technology (IT) crimes has sparked a wave of protests from Palestinian journalists and human rights organizations.

The controversial Cyber Crime Law, signed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on July 11, permits the imprisonment of Palestinians for “liking” or sharing published material on the internet.

Critics say the law paves the way for the emergence of a “police state” in PA-controlled territories in the West Bank. They also argue that the law aims to silence criticism of Abbas and the PA leadership.

The new law comes on the heels of the PA’s recent decision to block more than 20 Palestinian websites accused of publishing comments and articles critical of the PA leadership.

The law was approved by Abbas himself, without review by the Palestinian parliament, known as the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The PLC has been paralyzed for the past decade, as a result of the power struggle between Abbas’s PA and Hamas — the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.

In the absence of parliamentary life, Abbas and his senior officials and advisors have felt free to pass their own laws to serve their interests and promote their personal and political agendas.

In the view of Palestinian journalists and human rights advocates, the new Cyber Crime Law will further restrict freedom of expression, especially on social media, which will now be closely monitored by the PA security forces. They say that the law makes a mockery of the PA leadership’s motto that the “sky is the limit when it comes to freedom of expression.”

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The absence of a free and independent media in the PA-controlled territories has prompted many Palestinian journalists, bloggers and political activists to resort to Facebook and Twitter. There, they express their opinions, air their grievances, and discuss taboo issues — such as financial and administrative corruption among the top brass of the Palestinian Authority leadership.

The new law legalizes what has long been happening in the PA-controlled territories, however. PA security forces have long targeted Palestinians who post critical and controversial comments on social media.

Hardly a week passes without two or three Palestinians arrested or summoned for interrogation by the PA security forces regarding a Facebook or Twitter posting or comment. Many Palestinians have been taken into custody for “liking” or sharing a post, article or photo that was deemed offensive to Abbas or a senior PA official.

Yet, the Cyber Crime Law is indeed a watershed in repression: prior to it, no law existed that prohibited Palestinians from expressing their views on social media platforms.

Now, anyone who commits the offense of establishing a website with the intent of disseminating news that could “undermine the safety of the state or its internal or external security” is liable to a prison sentence and fine. The law also aims to punish anyone who promotes such news by “liking” or sharing it.

Palestinian journalists identify themselves as the real targets of the Cyber Crime Law. One journalist in Ramallah remarked:

“What is laughable is that this law carries penalties that are tougher than those imposed on thieves and sex offenders. This is a law with a purely political goal, although it has some positive aspects such as preventing extortion, fraud and impersonation on social media. But the law, in its present form, is designed to limit the freedom of the media and punish people for simple matters.”

Jihad Barakat, a Palestinian journalist who was recently arrested by the Palestinian Authority security forces for filming the motorcade of PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah while it was passing through an Israeli military checkpoint, expressed outrage over the new law. He too said that the law was aimed at curbing freedom of expression and intimidating critics of the PA.

“This is a dangerous law,” Barakat complained. “The law should conform with public freedoms and not be used to curb them.” Barakat later was charged with “begging and loitering in a public place in suspicious circumstances.” He was arrested because his filming of the PA prime minister at the checkpoint was considered embarrassing and offensive.

Palestinian journalists and human rights activists point out that the law contains ambiguous references, such as the “undermining or endangering of the safety of the state.”

Journalist Shatha Hammad said that she and her colleagues were not sure what this phrase actually means.

“As journalists, we are confused,” she said. “We don’t know what type of news or postings which are considered — according to this law — a threat to the security of the state.” She also pointed out that the new law comes amid a continued crackdown by the PA on Palestinian journalists and activists over their Facebook postings.

Alarmed by the new law, several Palestinian journalists and writers said it paves the way for the emergence of a repressive regime whose goal is to suppress public freedoms and violate the privacy of people.

“This law is aimed at providing the Palestinian Authority with a legal cover to suppress the voices of its opponents,” explained Palestinian writer Ahmed Al-Najjar.

“In this way, the PA can arrest any journalist or ordinary citizen for publishing an article or posting something on social media that is deemed harmful to the security of the state. This is a bleak scenario that makes it clear that we are facing a repressive police system. This dangerous law drives the final nail in the coffin of public freedoms.”

The Ramallah-based Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq joined the chorus of critics of the new law restricting freedom of expression. “The law was issued by President Abbas without being presented to the public,” the organization said. “It was issued in a very secretive manner.”

Al-Haq also noted that the PA leadership turned down requests and appeals by Palestinian groups and individuals to receive copies of the new law before it was passed. The organization went on to denounce the law as a “Sword of Damocles” over the head of Palestinian journalists.

The Cyber Crime Law showcases the fact that the Palestinian Authority regime is being run as a one-man show.

This latest dictatorial move in the PA-controlled territories might also serve to remind the international community about the current readiness of the Palestinian leadership for statehood, and what such statehood would look like. In its current incarnation, that state would fit in just fine with its brutal Arab neighbors.

Palestinian journalists frustrated with inability to cover PA corruption

January 13, 2017

Palestinian journalists frustrated with inability to cover PA corruption, al-Monitor

"PalestinianPalestinian journalists take part in a protest in front of the Reuters office, Gaza City, Gaza, Apr. 22, 2008. (photo by REUTERS/Ismail Zaydah)

Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are closely following the unfolding case of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly receiving favors or gifts. Their interest is not prompted only by glee at the possible downfall of the Israeli leader they despise, but also by appreciation and envy of Israeli democracy and press freedom that enable the questioning of the prime minister under caution and the investigative reporting against him by the media.

No journalists in Gaza — no matter how senior — would even think of criticizing the leaders of Hamas, and in the Palestinian Authority (PA), criticism of any kind against President Mahmoud Abbas, or exposure of corruption in the PA, could result in the journalist’s arrest.

“We all known there’s terrible corruption in the PA,” a senior veteran journalist from Ramallah, the seat of the PA in the West Bank, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “We know hundreds of stories about senior PA officials and about Abbas’ sons, but we can’t publish them or even talk openly about them.”

According to various reports, the PA has for years been plagued by corruption. The governmental structure put in place by the late Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat did not include control and supervision mechanisms. Every Palestinian in the West Bank and Gaza knows full well that those closest to the seat of power often enjoy a lifestyle incompatible with the salary of a PA official.

“We saw PLO activists who arrived [in the West Bank and Gaza] from Libya and Tunisia [in the 1990s] with only the clothes on their backs, and a few months after the PA was established they were already driving around in Mercedes cars, wearing Italian suits and building ostentatious villas,” the journalist claimed. “To this day they are all rich, taken care of and no one can say a word or even ask where such wealth came from.”

European Union states that donate hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the PA have tried to establish supervisory mechanisms over the funds they provide, but according to Palestinian journalists who spoke with Al-Monitor, the top PA levels were more devious than all the oversight mechanisms, and they found loopholes through which to funnel some of the money into their own pockets.

The criticism discussed behind closed doors does not relate only to past malfeasance. A senior journalist who works for an Arabic language media outlet notes in a conversation with Al-Monitor that the sons of the Palestinian president are also mentioned among those making a fortune out of their family connection to Abbas.

Tareq Abbas, for example, is the director of a company that in the past employed Mohammed Rashid, a close confidant of Arafat and his moneyman, who was subsequently convicted by a Ramallah court of stealing millions of dollars from a Palestinian investment fund and from the PLO coffers, and transferring the money to bank accounts in various places around the world. Since the “cleaning of the stables” after Arafat’s death in 2004, Abbas’s son Tareq has been serving as a director in the Palestinian investment fund that manages hundreds of millions of dollars, so that his father has almost complete control over the fund without anyone in the PA being allowed to express opposition or question its management. In 2012, Foreign Policy ran a story about the fortunes of Abbas’ sons in which the investigative reporters wondered whether there was any connection between the wealth they were accumulating and their family connection.

“We know the answer,” a Palestinian journalist told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “Everyone knows that Tareq and Yasser Abbas immediately win every bid they put in, whether directly or through straw men.”

The journalist said that reporters have learned not to ask “unnecessary” questions, lest they lose their jobs, at best, or are sent to jail in a worst-case scenario. The media learned the limits of what was permissible and what was not in the affair of Mahmad Hadifa, an independent journalist who published a series of investigative reports about the goings on in the Palestinian Ministry of Economy in Ramallah. Hadifa was arrested by Palestinian security forces after the stories ran and was threatened, even though no one claimed his reports were false. On the contrary, he touched on issues troubling Palestinians in the West Bank and exposed irregularities in the most important economic office in the PA.

“Sometimes you can see criticism against Abbas’ sons or senior PA officials on social media,” another journalist told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “But never in a way that might disclose the identity of the writer. Usually the critics are cautious and they ask rhetorical questions, but everyone knows what they mean.”

Only few such investigative reports were published — for instance investigative stories about corruption in the PA were published by Reuters and The Associated Press. The Palestinian researchers and reporters who helped to compile these stories were not named. In 2009, Reuters reported that firms run by Abbas’ sons won US government aid contracts to repair roads in the Palestinian territories, and AP published leaked documents in 2015 allegedly exposing corruption by senior PA officials.

None of the people mentioned in the reporting were questioned or lost their jobs; coverage of the reported affairs in the Palestinian media was limited on orders from high up.

Many Palestinians who have been exposed to Israeli reporting about the investigations into Netanyahu’s alleged wrongdoing — which play prominently in the Palestinian media — are asking whether receiving gifts such as cigars and champagne constitute sufficient cause for his indictment, conviction and resignation. Some of the journalists with whom I spoke claim that receiving gifts is standard practice in the PA and is not considered a criminal offense.

“If we were able to talk about each and every present, and this were to result in an investigation and conviction,” said a senior journalist in the PA on condition of anonymity, “we wouldn’t have a functioning Palestinian Authority because everyone would already be in jail.”