PCHR Organizes Panel discussion Titled: “Freedom of opinion and Expression in Palestine” to Launch its Two Periodic Reports on Freedom of Expression
On Monday, 04 May 2020, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) organized a panel discussion on the “Freedom of Opinion and Expression in Palestine” on World Press Freedom Day, in which PCHR launched its 2 periodical reports on the freedom of opinion and expression in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). The first report addressed the freedom of opinion and expression in the Palestinian Authority in the period from 01 April 2019 – 31 March 2020, and the second report titled: “Silencing the Press” covered Israeli occupation forces’ (IOF) violations against journalists and media operating in the oPt from 01 May 2019 – 30 April 2020.
The panel discussion was held via “Zoom” application and was broadcast live on Facebook, given the state of emergency declared in the oPt in light of the spread of coronavirus “COVID – 19″ worldwide. Thirty journalists, activists, and other stakeholders attended the panel discussion.
Hamdi Shaqqura, Head of PCHR’s Democratic Development Unit (DDU), opened the panel discussion, welcomed the participants, and gave a presentation on ” freedom of expression and the state of emergency” in which he affirmed that most governments across the world took extraordinary measures to combat the spread of coronavirus. Many of those measures are necessary for protecting health and saving lives; however, Shaqqura expressed his fear that these measures would be used as an excuse to eliminate citizens’ rights and to activate practices and procedures that threaten civil and political rights.
Shaqqura also emphasized that rights are guaranteed under international laws, including freedom of expression, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, these covenants place restrictions on the exercise of certain rights, especially in times of emergency, including freedom of movement, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression. Nonetheless, international standards stipulated that such restrictions should be based on a legal, temporary basis, i.e. limited, necessary, proportionate and subject to review in all cases. Media’s role becomes more important with the growing role of the executive authorities during the state of emergency, especially critical journalism. Stressing the importance of the professional and ethical standards commitments in publishing accurate and reliable information without causing panic by spreading rumors.
Mohammed Abu Hashem, PCHR legal researcher, presented the report on the state of the right to freedom of opinion and expression under the PA, pointing out that the report was divided into two main parts. The first part highlights the PA’s commitments on the international level, explaining the legal framework of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the PA, and the criticisms of the relevant laws. The second part highlights the violations of freedom of opinion and expression monitored and documented by the PCHR in the PA. Furthermore, he expressed the elements and reflections of the state of emergency, and emphasized the constitutional principle, contained in Article 111 of the Basic Law of 2003, which states: “It is not allowed to impose restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms when declaring a state of emergency except to the extent necessary to fulfill the purpose stated in the decree declaring the state of emergency“.
Abu Hashem also explained the state of freedom of opinion and expression according to the six measuring indicators adopted, which are: arbitrary arrest and summons of journalists, bloggers, and opinion-makers, some of them have been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment; preventing journalists from practicing their work; lawsuits due to practicing the freedom of opinion and expression; restrictions on the freedom to access information; restrictions on the freedom of creativity; and the continued application of laws that undermine the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Nafith el-Khaldi, PCHR researcher, gave a brief presentation of 22nd edition of “Silencing the Press”, which shows a significant escalation of Israeli attacks and violations against Media Personnel in the oPt. The report covers the period 01 May 2019 – 30 April 2020. He emphasized that the report includes a detailed documentation of relevant information and data that PCHR’s staff were able to reach.
This information reveals facts about these attacks and is based on testimonies of victims and eyewitnesses and field investigations. He explained that the report documented (98) violations included: 40 journalists were shot with different bullets, two of them lost sight in one of their eyes,14 journalists were subjected to physical assault and inhuman and degrading treatment, 26 journalists were detained and arrested, 13 journalists were denied from doing their work and covering incidents, raid and closure of a media office, two media and cultural offices were bombed and destroyed, and two newspapers were banned from printing in the West Bank.
Al-Khalidi stressed that the policy of impunity and the absence of accountability, and the international community’s silence on IOF practices against journalists and media workers over the past years, led to the escalation of violations, especially in the last two years.
The panel discussion included interventions by the participants, discussions and questions that led to great interaction on the topic of freedom of expression in the state of emergency. Participants’ interventions focused on ways to protect freedom of expression available to citizens in the absence of the rule of law and in the state of emergency. Participants also asked about the possibility of prosecuting IOF for its crimes against journalists, and its continuous attempts to hide the truth. Participants stressed the importance of the panel discussion in promoting the awareness on human rights and exposing human rights violations, and called upon civil society to promote awareness of freedom of expression and its limits.