PA Clampdown on Free Speech

On Thursday 17th October a Palestinian Authority (PA) court ruled that 59 social media pages and news sites should be blocked – prompting fierce criticism from the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and others.

The court ruling was revealed on Monday and prompted the following explanation from the PA Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday:

“These sites are not registered with the Information Ministry as required by the law.
They are also publishing materials that threaten national security and public order.”

Criticism of the court’s ruling was widespread because of the controversial nature of the law which the sites are claimed to have violated. The Cyber Crime Law was introduced in 2017 and met with much opposition from Palestinian journalists and civil rights activists when it was first passed.

Palestinian journalists protest the ruling
Palestinian journalists protest the ruling

All of the recently banned sites are critical of the Palestinian Authority, with most affiliated to rivals of President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Arab Centre for the Advancement of Social Media – 7amleh – condemned the court’s decision, accusing it of using vague definitions from the Cyber Crime Law. It called upon the PA to abide by its obligations under Article (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to protect Palestinian digital and human rights.

On Wednesday Palestinian journalists protested the ruling and called for it to be overturned, saying that it was simply aimed at silencing critics of Mahmoud Abbas’ government.

Those Palestinian journalists were supported by Reporters Without Borders who said the court order affected news sites with millions of Facebook followers.

A lawyer for the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), Alaa Freijat, said the court decision has been appealed. A lawsuit has been filed challenging the constitutional nature of the ruling.

The situation has attracted international attention, with Al Jazeera reporting that the constitutional court is now considering whether to lift the ban.

Whilst a British website reported the PJS claim that the court ruling represented:

a black day for Palestinian journalism and a fatal blow to freedom of expression in the Palestinian arena.”

The PJS’ chairman, Nasser Abu Bakr, believes that:

“the authorities should reward the Palestinian press instead of blocking and suppressing it.”