The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) is strongly concerned over the arbitrary measures taken in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to suppress press freedoms, and denounces the Public Prosecution’s involvement in providing a legal cover for this.
PCHR has recently documented two cases in which the prosecution is involved in the suppression policy against journalists through not being accurate in exhausting all measures before filing a case and detaining the accused ones pending investigations.
The first case is about the arrest of journalist Jehad Barakat in the West Bank because he took photos of the Prime Minister’s procession while passing by “‘Innaba” checkpoint. After that, the Public Prosecution filed a criminal case against Barakat for being present in circumstances that raise suspicion. Barakat was released on bail after he was detained for 2 days. However, journalist Barakat is still suffering from the legal procedures that struck his life just because he took photos the Prime Minister’s procession.
Moreover, PCHR also documented the arrest of journalist ‘Amer Balousha in the Gaza Strip on grounds of expressing his opinion on social media. Though what ‘Amer did does not violate the freedom of opinion and expression as explained in the International standards and even domestic laws, the Public Prosecution in Gaza filed a criminal case against him of many accusations, including “misuse of Technology” and incitement against the government and planning for holding protests through the social media. Yusuf Salem, ‘Amer’s lawyer, said to PCHR’s fieldworker that ‘Amer’s detention was extended to 15 days pending further investigation as he is so far under arrest.
During the past years, PCHR’s periodic reports regarding the freedom of opinion documented several cases in which the Public Prosecution in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip worked on filing lawsuits against journalists and opinion makers despite the insufficient evidence and sometimes not having any. These measures aim at forcing journalists into a swirl of legal procedures and detaining them for several days pending further investigation as the authorities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip attempt to promote a state of self-deterrence in order to mute the critical speeches.
PCHR emphasizes that arbitrarily filing lawsuits against journalists and opinion-makers to make the suppression of freedoms lawful is condemned and violates the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, particularly Article 19.
The violation of freedom of expression is considered as a clear violation of the Basic Law, which ensures freedom of expression in Article 19, as well as freedom of the press in Article 27.
PCHR also emphasizes that the involvement of the Public Prosecution in the authorities’ attempts to suppress public freedoms undermines the separation of powers, fully absents the rule of law and contributes to further interference of the executive authority into the public freedoms.
PCHR warns that the absence of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and the control of the judiciary in the West Bank and Gaza Strip undermine any opportunity of change, reform and returning back to democracy.
PCHR condemns the state of the relationship between the authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as you can say that there is now an oppressive executive authority, which hides behind the law and judiciary. PCHR also stresses that freedom is an inalienable right and the authority was established to protect it, underscoring that freedoms should not be confiscated under any pretext.
PCHR calls upon the competent court to immediately release journalist Ba’loushah and to consider the international standards of freedom of expression in interpreting national legal texts as the framework that the legislator at the international level accepted.
PCHR calls upon the Judicial authority to work hard in order to restore its prestige and independence, not to obey the executive authority, and take into account the accuracy while issuing orders relating to open investigation or detention pending investigation, especially in the opinion cases.
Finally, PCHR calls upon the Attorney General to issue a decision that prohibits the detention pending investigation in opinion cases, especially it is unjustified. PCHR affirms that the prohibition of detention pending investigation cannot obviate evidence or affect the investigation, which are the justifications that legalized the arrest pending investigation.