Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas issued formal instructions on Saturday to reverse an order censoring news websites linked to one of his fiercest critics.
Abbas’ order said, according to the Bethlehem-based Ma’an news agency, “From this point forward, the attorney general and the judiciary are prohibited from shutting down or blocking websites, and they are instructed to lift any existing bans.”
“Freedom of expression and opinion is a natural right enshrined in the (Palestinian) Basic Law,” or constitution, Abbas said. He urged journalists to nevertheless maintain their objectivity.
The order was Abbas' first public acknowledgment of the controversy that erupted after Ma'an revealed that his attorney general, Ahmad al-Mughni, was forcing private Internet companies to block access to websites loyal to Muhammad Dahlan, a former Fatah leader and critic of Abbas.
The attorney general told Ma’an on Saturday that he is to begin distributing clarifications to Internet providers within 24 hours, informing them they are no longer required to block any websites. He added that Abbas briefed him in a meeting shortly before announcing the instructions.
A few weeks ago, as many as eight news outlets were rendered unavailable after technicians at the Palestinian Telecommunications Company, or PalTel, used software called Squid to cause the sites to return error pages.
Experts told Ma’an on April 24 that the decision to begin blocking websites “is the biggest shift toward routine Internet censorship in the Palestinian Authority’s history. Aside from one incident in 2008, Palestinians have generally been free to read whatever they wanted.”
The PA’s Minister of Communications, Mashour Abu Daqa, announced his resignation following the PA’s censorship of the websites.
Upon his resignation, Abu Daqa stated that the decision to limit information availability was "bad for the image of the Palestinian Authority in the modern world."