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West Bank: Outrage after Palestinian Authority forces arrest journalist

Arrest of Aqil Awawdeh marks latest move in an apparent crackdown targeting dissent across the occupied West Bank
Palestinian security forces stand guard as calm returns to the occupied West Bank city of Nablus following clashes between protesters and Palestinian security forces the previous day, on 21 September 2022 (AFP)
By Fayha Shalash in Ramallah, occupied Palestine

Anger has spread across the occupied Palestinian territories following the arrest of a prominent journalist by the Palestinian Authority's security forces.

Aqil Awawdeh's family said that forces from the Palestinian Preventive Security Service raided his workplace in Ramallah on Thursday afternoon, arrested him and transferred him to an unknown destination.

The arrest came after he published a short video disputing a claim made by the spokesperson of the Palestinian security services that there were no political detainees in their prisons.

Hours after his arrest, the Lawyers for Justice group announced that Awawdeh's detention had been extended to Sunday.

The head of the group, lawyer Muhannad Karaja, told Middle East Eye that he was able to visit Awawdeh for a few minutes to obtain his approval to appoint a defence lawyer to follow up the judicial procedures.

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According to Karaja, the journalist is being held by the Public Prosecution Office on charges of "inciting racial strife" on the basis of posts on social media that were attributed to Awawdeh.

"An investigation session will be held for him on Sunday, and it is possible that he will be released by the Public Prosecution, or he will be referred to extend his detention in court, or an indictment will be read out," he added.

The group condemned the arrest of activists, as well as the PA's Cybercrime Law which they said had effectively legalised repression of public freedoms and constitutional rights.

According to the group, the law violates the Palestinian Basic Law and international human rights standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Cybercrime Law was passed in 2017 after the approval of the PA president, Mahmoud Abbas. Despite objections to the law by civil society institutions, especially human rights groups, it is still in effect.

As a result, dozens of Palestinians have been arrested and indictments submitted.

Dozens of detainees

The issue of political detention is a sore point among many Palestinians, alongside general criticism of the Palestinian security services in the occupied West Bank.

Asmaa Harish, a human rights campaigner and journalist, said that 40 detainees were being held by the Palestinian security services on political grounds.

She added that more than 300 cases of political arrests had been recorded since the beginning of 2023 in the occupied West Bank, including university students, journalists and activists.

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"Journalists, in particular, have been subjected since the beginning of the year to many arrests and harassment, including smear campaigns and incitement by the security services, in addition to constant threats to arrest and suspend them from work," Harish explained.

She said claims that there were no political detainees showed "a disrespect for the Palestinians' minds", who see the scale of violations of their freedom to express their opinion on a daily basis.

"For example, the incitement campaign against Al Jazeera International Media Network is part of what journalists from the Palestinian Authority are exposed to, in addition to many news networks."

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate condemned Awawdeh's arrest and demanded his immediate release, saying his arrest constituted a gross violation of freedom of opinion and the right to express it.

"The timing of the arrest on Thursday evening [on] the weekend's eve, which extends until Sunday morning, aims to prevent his speedy release," the group said in a statement.

The Palestinian security services have been detaining a number of Birzeit University students for more than a month, including the head of the student council, Abdul Majeed Hasan. Their detention has been extended several times after their participation in the student elections in May.

Attorney Mustafa Shatat said that the students were tortured during their arrest, and in their last court session, one of them, Yehia Farah, shouted: "Get me out of here, I want to go home."

On Saturday morning, local sources announced that the Palestinian security services had also arrested six students at Al-Najah National University in Nablus, due to their participation in organising a graduation ceremony held by the Islamic Bloc a few days ago.

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