|PCHR organizes a Roundtable Discussion on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Right to Peaceful Assembly in Gaza City|
|Thursday, 30 October 2008 00:00|
Date: 30 October 2008
PCHR organizes a Roundtable Discussion on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Right to Peaceful Assembly in Gaza City
On 30 October, 2008, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) organized a roundtable discussion on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly in Commodore Hotel in Gaza City. A number of journalists, academics, social activists, representatives of political factions and interested persons attended the roundtable that discussed the status of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly as documented by a study prepared by PCHR to evaluate the enforcement of these two rights between November 2006 and July 2008.
Mr. Khalil Shahin, Director of PCHR Economic and Social Rights Unit, chaired the discussion and initiated by pointing out that PCHR pays a special attention to civil and political rights, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly.
Mr. Hamdi Shaqqura, Director of PCHR Democratic Development Unit, reviewed PCHR's study on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly. He pointed out that the period covered by the study had been the worst in respect to the violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly since the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994. He explained that several violations had been committed during the reporting period and attributed these violations to two factors that directly contributed to the severity of attacks. He said the first factor lies in the prevailing security chaos and attacks on the rule of law, while the second factor lies in the political fragmentation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that took place following the military showdown by Hamas in June 2007. He added that following this showdown, the two governments in Gaza and Ramallah together with their security services perpetrated violations against public freedoms, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly.
Participants in the roundtable discussion were then given the chance to intervene, make comments and express their opinions.
Dr. Mousa Taleb, a lecturer at al-Azhar University-Gaza, was the first to intervene. He stressed the importance of the role of civil society organizations, including human rights organizations, in raising awareness of civilians of their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to peaceful assembly.
Dr. Hussein Abu Shanab, a lecturer at al-Aqsa University, criticized the study's description of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, arguing that the right description is that there is an authority in Ramallah and exceptional conditions in the Gaza Strip. However, Dr. Abu Shanab praised PCHR's study and called on PCHR not to stop the documentation of developments related to the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly, and to clarify the reasons that made perpetrators commit violations of these two rights.
Journalist Tawfiq Abu Shomar suggested in his intervention the formation of different press groups representing internet websites, audio and visual media to defend the rights of journalists. He added that such groups should receive legal support from human rights organizations.
Dr. Tariq Mokheimar, from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Gaza, called for taking into consideration political, ideological and cultural contexts of perpetrated violations in order to have deeper understanding of motives and causes.
Mr. Saber al-Nairab, from OHCHR in Gaza, called for paying attention to the right to freedom of belief. He pointed out that violations of this right have increased after June 2007. Al-Nairab recommended the enhancement and institutionalization of labor unions, which will require joining efforts in order to protect human rights, specially the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly.
Ms. Rawya al-Shawwa, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said that the legal framework that regulates the work of journalists and media officers is existed, but there had been an imbalance in its implementation by governments. She said that the implementation of this framework was loose, and was subject to the mood of a civil or security officer. Al-Shawwa called for launching a real appeal to activate the good laws that had been enacted by PLC. She also called upon PLC that had been inactive for two years to resume its activities to practice its role in following up civilians' affairs, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression that had been lost.
Mr. Aadel al-Za'anoon, Sudan TV reporter, pointed out that the ongoing situation of the press and media apparatus is a reflection of the current political conditions. He suggested the formation of a union for journalists that can defend their rights.
Mr. Mustafa al-Sawaf, editor-in-chief of Palestine Newspaper, pointed out that authorities everywhere fight the press because it is the mirror that shows what is going on the ground to all, including civil society organizations. He proposed that human rights organizations should provide awareness and education activities about these rights and should remind authorities of exiting laws that they should respect.
Mr. Hassan Jaber, a reporter for al-Ayyam Newspaper, said it is not possible to talk about the freedom of the press in a certain area and neglect this freedom in another area. He considered that there is a competition between the two conflicting parties in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and journalists, in particular, pay the bill of that competition. Jaber pointed out some problems that face the Palestinian media and press apparatus.
Mr. Mowaffaq Matar, a writer and journalist at the al-Hayat al-Jadeeda Newspaper, said that there is a state of defeat at all levels that has prevailed in the Palestinian society since for long time. Matar criticized the problems that face the media and press apparatus and proposed drafting a bill on media and press that encompasses fundamental human rights.
Mr. Hani Habib, a journalist, praised the notes of PCHR's study, particularly those related to the Executive Bill of 2000 that addresses the Public Meetings Law of 1998. The study argued that the executive authorities transferred the right stipulated in the law to a grant. In addition, Habib pointed out that PCHR study's neglected making contacts with official bodies to know their reactions on the violations included in the study.
Mr. Imad al-Ifranji, director of al-Quds Television in Gaza, proposed a set of recommendations, including: exerting pressure in order to approve the law relating to press unions, pointing out that the sole professional union that had been ratified by PLC was the Bar Association, and that all the other unions are registered as Ottoman associations. Al-Ifranji also recommended the cancellation of the presidential decree on incitement of 1998 and called for the release of all the journalists who are in prison in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank.
Mr. Khaled al-Batash, a leader of the Islamic Jihad, affirmed that the problem is basically political. He added that violations would escalate in case the ongoing political fragmentation continued. Al-Batash considered that violations perpetrated in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are official and systematic attacks because they are perpetrated for the purpose of reprisal and retaliation. He called for launching national dialogue and overall reconciliation in order to overcome the current crisis that causes damages to journalists.
This is the third roundtable discussion organized by PCHR within this week on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly. The first roundtable discussion was organized on Tuesday, 28 October 2008, at PCHR's sub-office in Khan Yunis, and the second one was organized on Wednesday, 29 October 2008, in Rafah, in cooperation with the National Association of Democracy and Law.