Mohammed Dahlan, the longtime rival of Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, has been sentenced in absentia by a Ramallah court to two years in prison, The Associated Press (AP) reports.
The sentence against Dahlan was handed down back in March but was not made public until Wednesday, in the official PA newspaper. There was no explanation for the delay.
The magistrate's court convicted Dahlan, who is now based in the United Arab Emirates, of defamation and slander because he alleged in an interview in October that PA security forces were helping protecting Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria.
The complaint against Dahlan was filed by six top security commanders loyal to Abbas, according to AP.
A former security chief in Gaza under Fatah, Dahlan was ousted from the party in 2011 and fled to Dubai. His home in Ramallah was later raided by PA security forces.
In recent months, the longtime rivalry between Dahlan and Abbas has resurfaced, likely because Dahlan is planning to run against Abbas in future elections.
In March Abbas accused Dahlan of collaborating with Israel to assassinate a senior Hamas terrorist in 2002. Dahlan then hit back, branding Abbas a “catastrophe” in an interview with an Egyptian television network.
Responding to his conviction, Dahlan said on Wednesday that he was intent on taking part in upcoming elections.
In a statement quoted by the Ma’an news agency, Dahlan said he believes the trial took place in secret, arguing that the case represents a mockery of the law by the president and was politically motivated to exclude him from planned elections.
Dahlan said he was not "surprised" by Abbas's decision to hold a "secret trial" as it "utilizes the respected Palestinian judicial system, and turns it into a tool that serves his needs, concerns, and personal grudges."
He explained that he learned from "trusted sources" that Abbas "asked his people to arrange a court sentence" for him on April 3, and asked them "to leave the timing of the announcement to him personally."
Dahlan said that he took several legal steps to defend himself, pointing out that he has immunity because of his membership in the PA legislative council.
The timing aims to impede his participation in the upcoming Fatah conference and his definite participation in the upcoming legislative and presidential elections, he claimed, according to Ma’an.