Rights Groups Call on Palestinian Authority to Release Anti-corruption Protesters

Activists are held for supposed violation of coronavirus emergency orders, as authorities deny claims of political arrests

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A woman walks along an empty street in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, July 6, 2020.
A woman walks along an empty street in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, July 6, 2020. Credit: AFP

Human rights organizations have harshly criticized the Palestinian Authority for arresting nearly 20 activists who had planned to demonstrate earlier this week in Ramallah against corruption.

The PA denies that these were political arrests, saying the activists were arrested for violating the ban on gatherings imposed under coronavirus emergency regulations.

Security forces arrested the activists in Ramallah on Sunday while they were on their way downtown, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights said in a press statement, adding that some people were even dragged out of their cars.

What sparked the planned demonstration was a series of appointments in the PA’s civil service, as well as what the activists termed the Palestinian telecommunications cartel.

Organizers had asked police for a permit to hold the protest at Manara Square, but their request was denied, citing coronavirus regulations, the commission said.

It added the demonstrators were arrested both for their activism and for social media posts criticizing PA institutions and Palestinian public figures.

Former Palestinian minister Shawqi al-Issa also criticized the arrests on his Facebook page, dubbing them arbitrary and saying there was no justification for them. Police seized one detainee from his car, he wrote, leaving the activist’s 3-year-old son alone in the car until passersby intervened to take care of the child.

Shawan Jabarin, director of the Al-Haq human rights organization, said he had visited the detainees in their Ramallah jail cells, and they are convinced that their arrest has nothing to do with the coronavirus and everything to do with their criticism of PA institutions and their call for a war on corruption.

Most of them were ordered held without bail for 15 days, Jabarin added, but there has been pressure to release them before next weekend’s Eid al-Adha holiday. Some of them are waging a hunger strike while in detention. 

Amnesty International launched a campaign on Thursday demanding that the detainees be released immediately and all charges against them dropped. In a letter to Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, the organization wrote that the activists were arrested solely due to their political activity.

For years, the organization’s statement continued, Amnesty has documented arbitrary arrests of demonstrators by Palestinian police in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. “Amnesty is concerned that many of these arrests are arbitrary and that judicial proceedings do not meet fair trial standards,” it added.

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