Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud AbbasFlash 90

The UN human rights chief on Thursday urged the Palestinian Authority (PA) to ensure the safety of protesters after security forces and supporters of chairman Mahmoud Abbas attacked demonstrators over the weekend, The Associated Press reports.

The protests erupted after an outspoken critic of the PA died shortly after his family says he was severely beaten by security forces who arrested him.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Thursday that PA security forces had used force against initially peaceful protesters, “including beating them with batons and firing teargas and stun grenades.”

A statement quoted by AP said she was concerned about “the presence of large numbers of non-uniformed people acting in a seemingly organized and coordinated manner” with the Palestinian Arab forces.

“During one of these protests, one of our staff members monitoring it was punched and pepper-sprayed by a person in civilian clothing,” Bachelet said. “Many people, including journalists and human rights defenders, were similarly assaulted.”

Bachelet called on authorities “to ensure freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly,” and said that the security forces must “provide safety and security for the exercise of human rights.”

The PA has in the past cracked down on people, social media and news websites that are critical of Abbas.

In 2019, a PA court blocked access to 51 online news sources that the PA regards as threats.

In 2017, Abbas issued a decree allowing his government to jail anyone on charges of harming "national unity" or the "social fabric".

Following the decree, the PA government blocked 30 websites, most of which were affiliated with Abbas' two main rivals, his longtime political rival Mohammed Dahlan and the Hamas terrorist group which controls Gaza.

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.