A court in Ramallah earlier this week ordered the blocking of 59 Palestinian websites, blogs and Facebook pages that oppose the Palestinian Authority and PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
The decision was made at the request of the Palestinian prosecution, but it is widely assumed that senior PA officials were behind the move. The prosecution, in its petition to the court, argued that the sites disseminate harmful content about the PA and its officials and are likely to be used to incite lawlessness.
Some of the blocked websites are very popular among Palestinians and in the rest of the Arab world. Some report critically on developments in the West Bank and Gaza, while others are identified with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the camp of Mohammed Dahlan, one of Abbas’ leading opponents. The list includes the Arab48 website, which is based in Haifa and is identified with the Balad party.
Social media and mainstream media outlets criticized the PA’s decision to seek to block the Palestinian websites, even while it doesn’t try to block Israeli websites. The Palestinian Press Association described the decision as a “black day for Palestinian journalism and a fatal blow to freedom of expression in the Palestinian arena.” The association noted that the decision was based on an order issued by Abbas in 2017, and that at the time it had warned the Palestinian government of the ramifications for freedom of expression and the press.
The association added that the request by the prosecution violated an agreement with the government whereby Palestinian media could operate freely, with freedom of expression protected.
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A Palestinian government spokesman said Tuesday that the government is committed to the legal system and its decisions, but also to international agreements and conventions that protect freedom of expression. The spokesman said the government was calling on the prosecution and the court to reevaluate the decision.
The press association and human rights groups in the West Bank have appealed the decision. On Tuesday a court began hearing the appeal, and proceedings will continue Wednesday. The PA hasn’t yet implemented the ruling, and an official Palestinian source told Haaretz that the government believes it will be struck down by a higher court. Palestinian legal sources also told Haaretz that there’s a good chance the appeal will be accepted.