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PCHR Condemns Use of Plainclothes Officers to Suppress Right to Peaceful Assembly in Gaza

Ref: 62/2018

Date: 19 June 2018

Time: 10:30 GMT

At approximately 11:00 on Monday, 18 June 2018, civilian persons backed by Plainclothes security officers intruded an event organized by the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees in cooperation with the Detainees Committees of the National and Islamic Factions and attacked the participants. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns use of civilian persons and plainclothes security officers to suppress and undermine the right to peaceful assembly in the Gaza Strip.  PCHR also emphasizes that going undercover in plainclothes does not exempt the security services from its responsibility for dispersing the peaceful sit-in and attacking the participants and journalists.

According to PCHR’s investigations, the Ministry of Interior permitted the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees to organize the sit-in in al-Saraya Square in Gaza City to call for end of the sanctions on Gaza and division.  According to eyewitnesses, once the sit-in, where hundreds participated, started, a number of young men arrived; some of whom came out of a nearby mosque wearing Kufiyas and white bowlers, raising banners and chanting “People Wants Downfall of ‘Abbas.” As a result, an altercation occurred, and some of the organizers asked the intruders to unify the slogans; however, the latter refused.  Hand-to-hand fighting then occurred between those in the sit-in, and it has later turned out that there was deployment of plainclothes security officers between the participants and they along with those officers who intruded the sit-in destroyed the stage and attacked the participants.  Moreover, whoever photographed what happened was pursued, attacked and forced to delete all photos and videos.

  1. M., a human rights activist who participated in the sit-in, said to PCHR’s Fieldworker that: “when we were in the sit-in, around 50 persons in plainclothes arrived raising banners and chanting slogans against the Palestinian President, so the sit-in organizers asked them to unify the slogans. However, they refused, and an altercation occurred. The intruders then attacked the stage and destroyed it in addition to attacking the participants.  While I was photographing the assaults via my cell phone camera, around 4 persons in plainclothes approached ordering me to hand my cell phone to them.  However, I refused, and two others then came towards me holding sticks, so I moved back to a gathering of civilians, who later turned out to be Internal Security officers as they introduced themselves.  I then introduced myself as a human rights activist and having my right to document.  However, this did not prevent them from verbally threatening to arrest me in al-‘Abbas Police Station, pushing me with their hands, tying me and forcibly took my cell phone to delete a video and then return the cell phone  back.”
  2. N., a correspondent for a radio station, said to PCHR’s fieldworker that “ when I arrived to cover the sit-in, which was at the very beginning, everything was normal until a large number of persons; most of them were bearded, suddenly joined the sit-in raising banners and chanting “People Want Downfall of ‘Abbas” and “Leave! Leave! ‘Abbas.” It was very clear to me they were members of Hamas Movement. Thus, some participants in the sit-in responded “With our spirit and blood we will redeem you ‘Abbas.” While I was covering what was going on, I was surprised with 4 bearded persons in plainclothes attacking me, and one of them forcibly took my cell phone ith which I was photographing. A prominent security commander was there and went up to the stage saying “there are no security officers in the sit-in”, but the audience responded no, there are security officers everywhere.  The security commander then left, and a fight broke out as those who intruded the sit-in headed to the stage and destroyed it in addition to attacking the organizers.  Meanwhile, I noticed many persons in plainclothes forcibly taking the cell phones of those who photographed what happened.  There was heavy deployment of plainclothes security officers whom I could identify from the guns and handheld transceivers they carried”

In a brief statement by the Ministry of Interior, it emphasized that “ the Ministry did not involve at all in what happened, and none was either detained or arrested on grounds of what happened.  However, the Ministry worked on making the event successful and stressing the legitimate demands of the event.  The Ministry will follow up what happened during the event to identify all the circumstances and details.”

PCHR is gravely concerned over employmeny of civilian persons and plainclothes security officers to undermine the right to peaceful assembly and warns of the gravity of this on civil peace.  Thus, PCHR calls upon the Attorney General to open a serious investigation into what happened and hold those responsible accountable.

PCHR also calls upon the duty bearers in the Gaza Strip and security services to respect and protect the right to peaceful assembly that is protected under 1998 Public Meetings Law and PA’s binding international standards.

PCHR emphasizes that each person has the right to information access and impart it via different means, including the right to photograph and impart various events without the intervention of security services.  Thus, PCHR calls upon the security services  to stop the policy of confiscating cameras and deleting materials on their memory cards to bury the truth.