Palestinian Reporter Faces Trial for Insulting PA President Abbas on Facebook

Reporter who works for Al-Quds TV, which is sympathetic to Hamas, said he was held for over 50 days in Palestinian lockup after he was tagged in a Facebook image that mocked Abbas.

A Palestinian reporter tagged in a Facebook image that mocked the Palestinian president said Saturday he faces trial for insulting a public figure despite already being detained for more than 50 days.

facebook - AP - January 22 2011

Mamdouh Hamamreh said security forces detained him in September, just hours after the image appeared on his Facebook feed. The picture showed President Mahmoud Abbas standing next to an actor who plays a villain on a popular Syrian soap opera, the reporter said.

Abbas' security forces have previously mined social networks to catch dissenters. In November, an atheist blogger was arrested after posting incendiary comments about Islam on Facebook.

Hamamreh works for Al-Quds TV, which is sympathetic to the militant Islamic group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip after seizing it from Abbas' forces in 2007. Since then, Abbas' self-rule government forces have frequently cracked down on suspected Hamas loyalists, including reporters, in the West Bank.

Gaza's Hamas rulers have also gone after Abbas loyalists, opponents and reporters. Riham Abu Aita, a media rights activist, said about 30 reporters were detained in the West Bank and Gaza in 2009, but did not have figures yet for 2010.

Ghassan Khatib, spokesman for the Abbas government, said there is considerable free speech in the West Bank but that special circumstances needed to be taken into account - an apparent reference to the bitter rivalry between Abbas and Hamas.

Hamamreh said he was held for over 50 days in a Palestinian lockup after the picture appeared on his feed. He said he had nothing to do with the image. He was released in November and a hearing has been set for next month.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (AP)

"I censor myself now," Hamamreh said. "I'm careful of what I say."