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Arrests in Gaza on Grounds of Freedom of Expression and Youth Movement

Ref: 117/2019

The Palestinian security services in the Gaza Strip summoned a number of activists and opinion makers on grounds of freedom of expression and claims of planning protests against the living conditions in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) confirms that the freedoms of opinion and expression and of peaceful assembly are protected for all citizens under the Palestinian Basic Law and international standards binding to the Palestinian Authority (PA). PCHR also stresses that the arrest on grounds of freedom of expression without a warrant from the Public Prosecution is a crime under the Palestinian Law and a flagrant violation of human rights.

PCHR Director, lawyer Raji Sourani, stated that “violations of the freedom of expression are unacceptable whether the perpetrator is Israeli occupation forces (IOF), the PA in the West Bank or the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip.” He also reiterated that these violations are in contrast with the Palestinian people’s freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as demonstrated with the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege (GMR) protest against IOF as well as the intention to hold general elections.

According to PCHR’s follow-up, between 21 – 24 October 2019, the Internal Security Service (ISS) summoned activists on grounds of expressing their opinion and allegations of planning protests across the Gaza Strip governorates. Of the summoned persons, PCHR identified:

  1. Salah ‘Abed (30), from Jabalia;
  2. Abdullah Huweihi (35), from Beit Hanoun;
  3. Haitham Mas’oud (26), from Jabalia;
  4. Adham Abu Sharekh (20), from Jabalia;
  5. Adham al-Sarhi (31), from Deir al-Balah;
  6. Hasan al-Dawawdi (25), from Rafah;
  7. Ramzi Taiseer Yusuf al-Bur’ie (46), from Gaza City;
  8. Jihad Ibrahim Rabah Abu Shehadah (45);
  9. Ashraf Ibrahim Mohammed Abdul Rahman (46);
  10. Yusuf Mohammed Mahmuod Abu ‘Amirah (45); and
  11. Yasser Abed Rabbuh Ibrahim al-‘Atawnah (47).

The following statements were made by 3 persons summoned on grounds of freedom of expression:

  • “An interrogator, from the Electronics Department in Rafah, asked me about my social media activity and accused me of misusing technology. He ordered me to hand my cellphone, and got angry when I told him I did not have it. He then asked for my Facebook username and password, but I refused and told him that he should have an order from the Attorney General to access it.  He was outraged and started beating me on my back, telling an officer there to take me to the cell.  He added, “According to the law you want me to apply, I am allowed to detain you for 24 hours.” An hour later, one of my relatives arrived, and I agreed to give the Facebook account password.  He also forced me to sign a pledge not to incite or call for protests.  I was released at approximately 12:30.”
  • “I was interrogated at the ISS office in Deir al-Balah for my posts on Facebook which called for holding elections and criticized Hamas. He asked me not to talk about politics in general or I will be arrested and the treatment that I would receive would not be like this interview.  He showed me a pledge that I had to read and sign, but I asked him if I do not sign, would I be arrested?  He answered yes, so I signed after thoroughly reading it and understanding that I would be fined 5 thousand shekels if I do not stop writing on Facebook and calling for protests.  I was then detained in a cell for hours and later released on the condition that I return on Thursday morning, 24 October 2019. I returned on Thrusday and  was detained and interrogated for 2 hours but later released.”
  • “Upon my arrival at the ISS office in Deir al-Balah, I was detained from 17:00 on Tuesday to 01:00 on Wednesday. I was interrogated twice about my posts on Facebook and accused by the interrogator of calling for protests, asking me who incited me to do so.  He added that the military police wants to arrest me, but he was hiding me from them.  At approximately 20:00 on the same day, I was released on the condition that I return at 09:00 on Thursday.  I returned and was interrogated for 2 hours, but later released.”

Most of those summoned are subject to recurrent summonses, known as “Reference,” where they are detained for hours and interrogated, but later released.  However, many of those who were re-summoned are still detained since 10:00 am on 27 October 2019, their third summons; three of them were identified: as Haitham So’oud; ‘Abdullah Hweihi and Ayman ‘Abed.

In the same context, Bassam Muhaisen (40), a producer in the Palestinian Broadcasting and Corporation, was summoned. According to PCHR’s information, at approximately 17:00, on Tuesday, 22 October 2019, ISS sent a written summons to Bassam stating that “You are summoned to refer to ISS at al-Jawazat headquarter in al-Rimal neighborhood, in the central Gaza Strip”. At approximately 08:00, on Wednesday, 23 October 2019, Bassam headed to the headquarters and he has not been released yet.

Journalist Hani al-Agha (42), a reporter at al-Shabab Radio, has been under arrest by ISS since 25 September 2019. The Ministry of Interior claimed in a press release that the arrest of al-Agha was not on ground of freedom of expression.

PCHR seriously condemns the arrests on ground of exercising freedoms, and emphasizes the Public Prosecutor to stop summonses on freedom of expression grounds.

PCHR calls upon the security services to respect the Palestinian Law, Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, and emphasizes the responsibility of the authorities in the Gaza Strip to guarantee these rights.