PCHR Calls for Immediate Release of Dr. Abdul Satar Qassem
On 04 February 2016, Nablus Magistrates’ Court issued a decision to extend the detention of Abdul Satar Qasem (67), lecturer at al-Najah University, for 15 more days pending investigation. This decision was issued after the Attorney General accused Qasem of slandering prominent figures and inciting sectarian feuds. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) calls for the immediate release of Dr. Qasem until the court considers his case. Moreover, PCHR highlights that detaining those accused of exceeding the freedom of expression pending investigation violates article 19 of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) binding-International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as Palestine acceded to the abovementioned Covenant.
On 02 February 2016, a force of Palestinian Police arrested Dr. Qasem from his house in Nablus al-Jadida area, south of Nablus. The spokesman of the Palestinian police, Yousef al-Mahmoud, claimed that the arrest came upon a complaint filed by a number of civilians to the Attorney General who issued an arrest warrant against Qasem.
According to PCHR’s following up and Qasem’s wife testimony, the Attorney General issued an indictment that included 8 charges as follows: “Defaming prominent figures; publishing false news undermining the prestige of the State; discrediting the President and Vice-President of the PA; slandering public authorities; inciting sectarian feuds and publishing malicious news.”
PCHR closely follows up the violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and stresses:
- According to Article 106 of the 2001 Criminal Procedure Code, issuing an arrest warrant directly from the Attorney General without preceding it with a summons constitutes an arbitrary use of power, especially that Dr. Qassem does need an arrest warrant because he does not pose a grave danger and will not flee
- Detaining those accused of exceeding the freedom of expression pending investigation is not justifiable as detention pending investigation was legislated for fear that the accused person would flee or the evidence would be wiped off. However, this is not the case in crimes of opinion as stipulated in Article 19 of the ICCPR.
- Ensuring a fair trial for whomsoever appearing before the courts to guarantee the accused person’s right to proper defense and interpretation of laws by the court in line with the PA’s obligations under the international human rights law.
It should be mentioned that Dr. Qasem is a public figure, political activist and researcher known among the political and academic environment. He was many times arrested on grounds of his bitter criticism of the PA policy since its establishment. Dr. Qasem has recently issued statements, where he criticized the practices of the PA and Palestinian President. One of his last statements, that is behind his arrest according to his wife, was broadcast via al-Quds Satellite Channel.
PCHR emphasizes the importance of respecting the PA’s binding international standards that encourage the public authorities to tolerate with all forms of criticism against them even if the criticism was bitter or exaggerated. PCHR also stresses that the PA should avoid any retaliatory procedures against opinion makers. PCHR also calls upon:
- The judicial authorities to immediately release Dr. Qasem until the court considers the complaints filed against him;
- The Attorney General to ensure that the public authorities will respect the Criminal Procedure Code; and
- The PA to respect its obligations under the international human rights law, particularly the ICCPR and its Article 19 related to the freedom of opinion and expression.