Summonses on Grounds of Freedom of Opinion in West Bank; PCHR Follows up with Deep Concern and Warns of Arbitrary Use of Power
Three Palestinian civilians in the West Bank were summoned and arrested on grounds of their Facebook posts. These incidents are part of a state of arbitrary use of law; upon which opinion makers are summoned and usually arrested pending investigation without any objective justification. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) emphasizes that freedom of expression should be respected and the Criminal Procedure Code should be strictly applied. PCHR also calls upon the Attorney General and Judiciary not to arrest journalists pending investigation.
According to PCHR’s follow-up, Nedal Mahmoud Ashmer from Hebron, a photojournalist at Ramsat News Agency, was arrested and accused by the Attorney General of “Offensive Speech against the Palestinian President” in his Facebook posts. Ashmer is still under arrest pending trial for the seventh day. His brother said to PCHR’s fieldworker that:
“On 11 October 2016, my brother, Nedal, received a summons from the Preventive Security Services (PSS), so he called the Journalists Syndicate, which promised him to solve the problem. However, at approximately 11:00, on 13 October 2016, PSS officers arrived, arrested my brother and confiscated some papers and a laptop after searching the house. When I asked them for the search warrant, they showed it to us but did not let us read it. We later knew from his lawyer that the Attorney General extended his detention for 48 additional hours, and he was accused of insulting the President on 18 October 2016. The Court then extended his detention for 4 additional days.”
In another incident, Amir Mustafa Dawoud, from Beit Daqo, northwest of Jerusalem, was summoned after posting a video for his grandmother, who criticized the President’s participation in Shimon Perez funeral. Dawoud was detained for long hours before being informed to return later. He said in his testimony that:
“On 11 October 2016, a person introducing himself as a General Intelligence Service (GIS) officer arrived and ordered me to refer to the GIS office, but refused to give me the summons. On the following day, I went to the GIS office in al-Balou’a Neighborhood in Ramallah, where I was questioned about my affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and my relation with Fadi al-Salamin (a Palestinian activist) after reviewing the opinions I posted on my Facebook account. I was then taken to a cell and was searched. I was again questioned and then taken back to the cell until 20:30. One of the GIS officers then came and told me that he convinced the officer in charge to release me although there was an arrest order against me. I was informed to come on 19 October.”
In a separate incident, Nizar Khalil Banat, from Dura in Hebron, was summoned and arrested by the PSS on grounds of his Facebook posts as well. The court released him five days later. He said in his testimony that:
“On 22 September 2016, he received a call from someone introducing himself as a PSS officer and ordered him to refer on 24 September to the PSS office. I headed there and was only asked for my Facebook account password. I was then transferred to a cell until the next day morning as I later knew from the guards that the Attorney General extended my detention for 48 hours. My lawyer then arrived to let me sign a power of attorney so he could represent me before the court. I was not allowed to talk with my lawyer or stay with him alone. I stayed in the cell until 27 September, but the judge refused the extension for 2 other days after I told him that the Attorney General did not present any evidence. On 29 September, the Attorney General attempted to ask for further extension, but the judge refused and released me.”
PCHR emphasizes that the strict application of the Criminal Procedure Code is indispensable for the protection of freedoms. PCHR also stresses that the detention pending investigation in cases of opinion expression violates the international standards binding the Palestinian Authority.
PCHR reiterates that detention was enacted to prevent the accused person from escaping or obliterating evidence and these two conditions are not available in the opinion expression cases. This was also emphasized by the Intentional Committee observing the application of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
PCHR warns of the repeated summonses of opinion makers without any legal justification or explicit charge. Moreover, arbitrarily subjecting opinion makers to undue procedures constitutes a blatant violation of public freedoms and clear abuse of power. Therefore, the Attorney General should investigate these allegations to establish the facts in order to hold those responsible accountable.
PCHR calls upon the Attorney General to inspect any request to issue a search or arrest warrant because tolerating in giving such warrants threatens the freedom and dignity of civilians and defames the Attorney General himself, who should represent civilians and maintain their interests. PCHR expresses its deep concern over the excessive use of law to suppress freedoms and degrade civilians’ dignity. Thus, PCHR urges the Attorney General and Members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), with their powers guaranteed by law and duties towards the society, to carry out their entrusted role in following up the authorities commitment to the investigations and accusations rules when they apply the law and to end the phenomenon of arbitrary detention.
PCHR stresses the right of each person to file a compensation case against the public authorities in cases of unlawful detention or the authority’s misuse of power.