On 25 June 1995 the Palestinian National Authority issued the Press Law. This law has raised considerable controversy in Palestinian legal and political circles because of the serious threat it poses to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. This study aims at explaining the Press Law and offers a critique on some of its provisions in relation to international human rights standards.

However, the aim of the report is not merely to criticise the legislation of the Palestinian Authority. It is intended to contribute to the discussion on the development of democratic society in the autonomous areas of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Such development occurs in a very difficult environment; there has been over 27 years of Israeli occupation and Palestinian life was directed to resisting this. The Israeli occupation was preceded by a succession of earlier alien regimes all of which left their mark on the Occupied Territories.

The Declaration of Principles heralded a new era in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. As a result of this, dynamic and rapid changes are occurring in the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. Of course, there is the Palestinian Authority, the first national Palestinian government across the Occupied Territories. The significance of this cannot be under-estimated. Along with the Palestinian Authority many other elements of a state have been established: social, economic, cultural, political and legal institutions. These need to be encouraged and developed, the task cannot be left to the Palestinian Authority alone.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights takes seriously its responsibilities in this regard and has as one of its major objectives the development of a democratic civil society in which human rights and the rule of law are respected. The study of the Press Law is one of a series of projects in our programme of activities designed to meet this goal. The objective of this study is to assist in encouraging the movement towards a democratic society in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

This report is divided into five sections. Section One examines the background of laws in the Occupied Territories concerning the freedom of the press and the right to publish. This is of historical interest and is of legal significance as these laws remain valid in the Occupied Territories. Section Two offers a precis of the Press Law of 1995 and examines in rather more detail the impact of this law on human rights and democracy. The appendices sets out international law concerning the freedom of expression, the legislative process under the Palestinian Authority and the official translation of the Press Law.

Since this report has been produced in English and Arabic a brief explanation should be offered as to the preparation of these reports. The Arabic text was prepared on the basis of the original Arabic text of the Press Law published by the Ministry of Information. The English text was prepared using the English translation prepared by the Ministry of Information. Great care has been taken to seek conformity between these reports with the Press Law. It may be that differences remain, in such case the Arabic report should be regarded as the original.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is an independent legal agency dedicated to protecting and promoting human rights, respect for the rule and law and the promotion of democratic principles in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The work of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is supported by the Swedish International Commission of Jurists, CAW Social Justice Fund, NOVIB, Open Society Fund, Agir Ensemble pour le Droits de I'Homme, Christian Aid and Robert F Kennedy Memorial Foundation.

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