On 01 September 2016, Internal Security Service officers arrested Mohamed Ahmed Othman, who works as a journalist at al-Monitor Newspaper. Mohamed stated that he was exposed to torture in an attempt to force him to unveil the source of a non-confidential document headed with the State of Palestine, Office of the previous Prime Minister, that he published on Facebook. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) stressed that freedom of access to information is considered the cornerstone for freedom of expression and opinion and the Palestinian Authority (PA) should respect and protect this freedom. Moreover, PCHR highlights that torture constitutes a crime that cannot be justified according to the international standards and domestic laws.
The victim stated, “At approximately 16:15 on Thursday, six armed persons, three of them were in civilian clothes, came to my house. They introduced themselves as internal security officers and said they had a search warrant to search the house. They did not show me that warrant and then quickly rushed into the house to search it. They confiscated 2 Laptops, 2 cell phones and a digital camera. After that, they took me to the Internal Security Service Office, where they asked me about the source of the document I published on my Facebook account. I told them I had the right to unveil my sources, so they blindfolded me and then put me in a room where I was beaten up. They took me to another room known as the “Bus” room, where I remained in the standing position because I was not allowed to move for over an hour and a half. I was then taken to the investigation room, where they asked me about the document source and slapped me in the face, during which, I was shackled (Shabeh) as they tied my hands to the ceiling. Afterwards, they took me down, brought a paper and asked me to write down my confession, but I did not write anything. I was then taken to a small cell, I refused to eat and told them I was on a hunger strike. On the next day, I was taken again to the investigation room, where they took my statement and told me to come on the next day to take my belongings. My father bailed me out. In the next day, I went to receive my belongings, but they did not give me anything.”
PCHR stresses the journalist’s right to protect his sources and everyone’s right not to be subjected to torture or cruel and inhuman treatment according to the Palestinian laws, including the Palestinian Basic Law in articles (13, 19 and 27), Publications Law, international standards included in articles (7, 19) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in addition to the Convention against Torture 1984.
The Publications Law 1995 explicitly provides the protection of the information sources and the right to keep them confidential unless the court decides otherwise when considering specific cases. Article 4 (D) stipulates, “The source of information and news obtained for a press publication, news agency, editor and journalist shall be kept confidential unless the court decides otherwise while considering the criminal cases in protection of the national security, to prevent crimes or to achieve justice.”
PCHR underscores that any journalist who is subjected to torture to unveil his sources is considered a double crime: a crime of misuse of force and a torture crime. Both are considered criminal and punishable according to the Palestinian Penal Code of 1936.
PCHR also stresses the importance of the security services to respect the rule of law and human rights. PCHR also calls upon the Attorney General to investigate the arrest of journalist Othman and the torture to which he was subjected in the head office of the Internal Security Service in Gaza city.
Additionally, PCHR calls upon the prosecution, judiciary and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza city to monitor the detention centers and prisons according to articles (10-11) of the Correction and Rehabilitation Centers’ Law no. 6/1998, because many complaints were filed by civilians that they were subjected to torture in those centers.