Released @ 11:00 hours GMT, 19th December, 1998

On Friday, December 18, Palestinian police arrested four leading members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and eight Palestinian journalists, including the head of the Palestinian Journalists’ Association, Zakaria Talmas. The Palestinian police also closed three press offices. The police measures were taken in the aftermath of a peaceful march against the American-British bombardment of Iraq and to express solidarity with the Iraqi people. Palestinian police broke up the march and many of the participants were beaten. PCHR expresses its deep concern with the behavior of the Palestinian police. The action of the police constitutes a basic violation of human rights, especially the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.

Yesterday’s arrests took place after a public event marking the 31st anniversary of the PFLP. The Palestinian Authority (PA) had even authorized the event marking the anniversary. Dozens of leading representatives of political parties, members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), and more than 3,000 citizens were present. All of the speakers strongly condemned the American-British bombardment against Iraq and participants burned American flags. Such flag-burning was irritating to the PA. After the event, around 4:30 p.m., participants marched from Nasser Street towards the Legislative Council building. The march was led by leading figures of Palestinian parties and by members of the Legislative Council.

The Palestinian police broke up the march and closed the roads to participants. Only members of the Legislative Council and a number of the political leaders were able to cross the barriers. Other participants attempted to cross, but they were prevented by the police and beaten with truncheons. This contributed to the deterioration in the situation. Some of the participants began throwing stones at the police. The police responded by shooting tear gas canisters. The unrest lasted for about 30 minutes and by 6:00 p.m. the situation was quiet after PLC members and political leaders intervened to contain the strife.

During the march, eight journalists were arrested by the police while they were covering the event. Anybody with a camera was arrested. The journalists were transferred to the police headquarters and placed in a room designed for people who had transgressed moral standards. At 8:00 p.m., all journalists were released and their materials were confiscated. Some of the journalists signed a pledge of not photographing or videotaping “actions that may damage the reputation of the PA.”

It is clear that the PA feels politically embarrassed as people under its jurisdiction organize marches hostile to the United States in which the American flag is burned. Even in the United States, flag-burning remains a legal act protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Later, PCHR was informed that the police closed three press offices in Gaza City. The closed offices are the Gaza Center for Television Broadcasting, the office of the Associated Press, and Jaffa Center.

In another escalation of tension, the police arrested four leading members of the PFLP. The arrested members are Jamil Majdalawi, a member of the PFLP Politburo, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), and the Palestinian Central Council; Kayyed Al-Ghoul, a member of the Central Committee of the PFLP and a member of the PNC; Dr. Rabah Mohana and Walid Al-Ghoul, both leading members of the PFLP. All of these people were arrested around 7:00 p.m. in front of the entrance to the Legislative Council. The police approached the four leaders while they were in the Council and informed them that they were all invited to drink coffee with Talal Abu Zeid, head of police investigations. The invitation, however, soon turned into an arrest once they were all outside of the Legislative Council. Three of them were released after three hours, while the fourth, Walid Al-Ghoul, remains under arrest.

PCHR expresses its deep concern about the behavior of the Palestinian police and the violation of the basic rights of citizens, especially the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. PCHR call upon the PA to:

  1. immediately release Walid Al-Ghoul;
  2. re-open the three press offices which were illegally closed without due process (according to the Palestinian Press Law the police have no right to close press offices as a specialized court is required to examine such cases first and the Attorney General is entitled to investigate in each case);

    3) lift restrictions imposed on journalists and ensure that they are allowed to carry out their work freely. In this regard, PCHR expresses solidarity with the Palestinian Journalists’ Association. The Association condemned the actions of the police against the journalists, which included their detention in a room for the protection of public morality (a very grave insult). Those people arrested have made many contributions over the years to the Palestinian cause. It causes serious damage to their reputations to be maltreated in this way.