Abbas critic released on bail

Issa Amro, detained after criticizing PA chairman, released on bail.

Elad Benari,

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas
Yonatan Sindel/Flash 90

A Palestinian Authority (PA) court on Sunday released on bail a prominent activist who was arrested last week after criticizing PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas's administration.

Issa Amro was detained by Palestinian security forces last Monday in Hevron on accusations including causing "strife", human rights activists said.

Amro reportedly criticized in a Facebook post the detention of a local journalist who had called for Abbas's resignation.

His lawyer, Muhannad Karaja, said he has also been accused of creating websites that "aim to undermine the state's security", in violation of a new Palestinian law on cyber crime, according to AFP.

The controversial Electronic Crimes Law, approved in August, imposes tight controls on media freedom and banning online expression and dissent.

Rights groups have criticized the law, saying it could be used to target critics of the Palestinian leadership.

The PA insists the law was passed to combat electronic crimes and denies the purpose of the order was to abuse Abbas's opponents.

"We asked for Issa to be released on bail," Karaja told AFP on Sunday, adding, "The prosecution and the court agreed on this in exchange for a deposit of 1,000 Jordanian dinars ($1,400)."

"Issa will appear later before the court regarding this case and all the charges against him," the lawyer continued.

The hearing was held in secret, with journalists barred from the courtroom, according to AFP.

Karaja said he did not know when the next hearing would be held.

Dozens of activists protested outside prosecutors' offices on Sunday over Amro's detention, some with tape over their mouths.

After his release, Amro went to the offices of the organization he runs, Youth Against Settlements, where he was warmly greeted by fellow activists and spoke out against the law.

"I hope the president of the state of Palestine will decide today to freeze this law," Amro said, in reference to Abbas.

He spoke of the need for "a space for freedom of speech and freedom of criticism" and accused Palestinian security forces of verbal and "minor" physical abuse against him.

The new law and Amro’s arrest come amid continued criticism of Abbas over repression of freedom of the press.

Earlier this year, Abbas blocked at least eleven Palestinian Arab news websites, including the sites of the Palestinian Information Center and the Shehab News Agency, which is affiliated with Hamas, as well as the “Voice of Fatah”, which is known to be close to his longtime political rival, Mohammed Dahlan.

In 2012, Abbas also censored media outlets affiliated with his rivals. He subsequently ordered the censorship to be lifted after coming under fire for it.