Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas Reuters

Amnesty International on Wednesday criticized both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas over their restrictions of freedom of expression.

In a statement, the group said both sides had launched “a repressive clampdown on dissent that has seen journalists from opposition media outlets interrogated and detained in a bid to exert pressure on their political opponents.”

The statement noted that the PA has arrested six journalists in August so far, shut down 29 websites and introduced a controversial Electronic Crimes Law imposing tight controls on media freedom and banning online expression and dissent.

In Gaza, noted Amnesty International, Hamas security forces have arrested at least two journalists since June and hampered others from freely carrying out their work. At least 12 Palestinian Arabs, including activists, were also detained by Hamas for critical comments posted on Facebook.

“The last few months have seen a sharp escalation in attacks by the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, on journalists and the media in a bid to silence dissent. This is a chilling setback for freedom of expression in Palestine,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“By rounding up journalists and shutting down opposition websites the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip appear to be using police state tactics to silence critical media and arbitrarily block people’s access to information,” she added.

“Instead of presiding over a chilling campaign designed to silence dissent, intimidate journalists and breach the privacy of individuals, the Palestinian authorities must stop arbitrarily detaining journalists and drop charges against anyone prosecuted for freely expressing themselves. They must also urgently repeal the Electronic Crimes Law,” said Mughrabi.

“Hamas must immediately release anyone held solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and urgently investigate allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees by security forces,” she added.

The PA last week released five journalists who were arrested under the Electronic Crimes Law and who were accused of “leaking sensitive information to enemy groups.”

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

Two months ago, 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.

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