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Detention of Journalists and Activists Pending Investigation Violates International Standards Binding to Palestine

 

Ref: 66/2020

Date: 23 July 2020

Time: 09:23 GMT

 

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) follows up with grave concern the detention of journalists and opinion makers pending investigation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, which violates international standards that refuse the pre-trial detention of journalists. PCHR reaffirms its rejection of the continued application of the Press and Publications Law which contains loose texts that criminalize freedom of expression and undermine freedom of the press.

 

According to PCHR’s follow- up,  on 16 July 2020, the police summonsed journalists Mothana al-Najjar (36) and Tareq Isshaq (33) after the latter photographed a video showing a female student claiming that her Tawjihi exams result were wrong  and uploaded it to his media website (Formedia) while al-Najjar shared the video on his social media page, demanding the Ministry of Education to  apologize. After interrogating the journalists and informing them that the student’s result was forged, it was agreed that the journalists would publish a video in which the student and her family apologized for their false allegations, and the journalists were released accordingly. After the apology was published, the journalists deleted it upon a request from the Press Syndicate that issued a statement condemning the prosecution and the Ministry of Education’s manner of addressing the issue.

Afterwards, on 19 July 2020, the public prosecution summonsed both journalists, detained them in the Sharkia police station and extended their detention for 48 hours. The journalists appeared before  Khan Yunis Magistrate Court, which extended their detention for 15 days. At approximately 19:00 on 21 July 2020, the journalists were released. The journalists apologized posted apologies for their action on their social media pages and confirmed in the apology that they were treated in accordance with the law and that they were not subjected to security-related questioning.

 

In the same context, many journalists and activists were recently detained pending investigation by authorities in the West Bank on ground of freedom of expression. Among those were: Fayiz al-Sowati, a blogger on social media; Sami al-Sa’iy, a journalist. Al-Sowati was arrested for accusations of corruption he made against public figures, while al-Sa’iy was arrested on grounds of his journalistic work. The public prosecution charged them according to the 2018 Cybercrime Law.

 

Furthermore, on 20 July 2020, 21 persons were arrested in the West Bank on grounds of calling for a peaceful assembly in al-Manara Square in Ramallah. Some of those persons were released, while 14 are still in custody pending investigation until the issuing of this press release. The prosecution charged them with organizing an illegal public assembly, and they were brought before the Ramallah Magistrate Court, which renewed their detention for 15 days. It should be noted that keeping this number of detainees in overcrowded detention centers endangers their health, especially in the light of the outbreak of the corona virus pandemic. The detainees went on hunger strike from the first moment of their arrest; 9 of them are still on hunger strike until the issuing of this press release and one was consequently transferred to the hospital.

 

PCHR confirms that pre-trial detention is an exceptional and dangerous mean, and it should only be used if there is a fear of perpetrators escaping or concealing evidence. This is unthinkable in cases of opinion expression in general, particularly the case of peaceful assembly detainees in al-Manara Square or in the cases of journalists al-Najjar, Isshaq and al-Sa’iy.  Also, this type of detention violates international standards in opinion cases, as confirmed by General Comment No. 34 issued by UN Human Rights Commission that monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

PCHR reaffirms its rejection of the continued application of loose and vague texts in the 1995 Press and Publications Law, especially Article 8 that the public prosecution relied on to criminalize journalists because the text includes vague expressions, such as demanding the journalist to: “Provide the journalistic material in an objective, integrated and parallel manner…” Otherwise, the journalist is subject to punishment under Article (142) of the Penal Code of 1936, which imposes  a penalty on anyone who violates legislation, up to two years in prison.

 

PCHR affirms its complete rejection of “detention pending investigation” policy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and emphasizes that this policy is a flagrant violation of the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Palestinian Basic Law 2003 (PBL) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1966 as per Article 19 of both PBL and ICCPR.

 

Thus, PCHR calls upon judicial authorities, whether in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, to observe international standards and agreements when interpreting Palestinian laws and identifying the limits of judicial authorities’ powers.

 

PCHR also demands that authorities cease use of criminalization texts in or related to the 1995 Press and Publications Law, due to the frustrating effect of these texts on freedom of expression and press work. PCHR affirms that the several articles of the Cybercrime Law need to be reviewed and interpreted in light of Palestine’s international human rights obligations.

 

Finally, PCHR demands that the judicial authorities and public prosecution not detain journalists or opinion-makers pending investigation on grounds of opinion expression or journalistic work, and to immediately release all individuals detained pending investigation in cases relevant to freedom of expression.