Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Suppression Of Free Speech By Abbas Regime Is Only Getting Worse

[T]he PA leadership has become more emboldened and the western media – either because of physical or moral exhaustion – is allowing the PA’s censorship to seep into and rot away at core freedoms, both of speech and of the press.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus

One of the most outspoken and respected reporters in Israel is Arab journalist Khaled abu Toameh, who quit the Palestinian media outlets 30 years ago so that he could work for the western outlets and write about the news affecting the Palestinians--instead of allowing the Palestinian leadership dictate to him what he could report.

But the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and its intimidation to prevent criticism of the Palestinian government has only grown, to the detriment of both ordinary Palestinians and journalists.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus writes about The Silence Abbas and the PA Want You to Hear, noting that the Palestinian Authority’s Penal Code allows those accused of defamation to be arrested and held in detention for up to 6 months without being charged with a crime--and Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have taken advantage of this law to punish those who criticize the government:
  • Esmat Abdul-Khalik, an al Quds University lecturer and single mother of two, was arrested in March. Abdul-Khalik was held in solitary confinement and denied visitation visits because someone else used her Facebook page to criticiz PA President Mahmoud Abbas--calling him a traitor and suggesting he resign.

  • George Canawati, the director of Radio Bethlehem 2000, was arrested in September for posting criticism of the Bethlehem Health Department on his Facebook page. Last month the Palestinian Authority decided that Canawati will be tried for defamation, which is a crime punishable by up to two years in prison. The trial has been adjourned until September.

  • Recently, at least three others have been picked up for daring to criticize members of the government and nine journalists have been arrested for exposing corruption or making critical remarks about the PA leadership on Facebook. Many others have been summoned for interrogation.
Marcus writes that in addition to the intimidation of citizens to prevent criticism and discourage free speech, the muzzling of journalists by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority continues unabated
In addition to whispered discussions being heard in Ramallah about the “Facebook Police” are the directives issued to western journalists to focus their reporting on “Israel’s ‘occupation’” and refrain from prying into alleged corruption committed by PA officials, because “nothing else is newsworthy and nothing else should be reported.”
Palestinian intimidation extends to western journalists as well, warning them not to work with Arabic speaking reporters who fail to toe the line. Western journalists play along rather risk losing media access to senior officials.

She notes:
Senior PA officials told Arab Israeli journalist abu Toameh, “Even the Jews at Haaretz behave themselves and for that they are rewarded with interviews of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.”
Entire news sites that are critical of the Palestinian Authority have been blocked from accessing the Internet:
  • A report in late April revealed that several websites which reported on corruption within the PA were blocked, including Inlight Press, which had revealed that the PA had been monitoring the phones of Mahmoud Abbas’s opponents.
  • In May, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate--which reports directly to Abbas's office in Ramallah--instead of defending the rights of its members, began punishing Arab Palestinian journalists who met with Israeli colleagues in European seminars dedicated to promoting freedom of expression and increase cooperation. They were threatened with expulsion from the Syndicate, which would result in being boycotted by all of the other PA newspapers and Palestinian media outlets.

Thirty years after leaving behind the suppression of free speech by Palestinian leaders, under the Palestinian regime of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, that intimidation has caught up with Khaled abu Toameh:
On his own Facebook Page abu Toameh posted this silent cri de coeur: “A campaign of intimidation, harassment, pressure, threats and boycotts has made it impossible for an Arab journalist to work in the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories.”

Where are the voices in the West which are supposed to stand up for free speech?
Or are Abbas and the Palestinian Authority going to get a free pass?

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