WASHINGTON - The State Department said it was "deeply disturbed" by the death of Palestinian activist Nizar Banat, as well as in the information that has been reported regarding the circumstances of his death.
The State Department's statement marks rare criticism of the Palestinian Authority from the administration, which has endeavored to restore and renew ties with the Palestinians since taking office.
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"We urge the Palestinian Authority to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation and to ensure full accountability in this case," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, adding that "we have serious concerns about Palestinian Authority restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression by Palestinians and harassment of civil society activists and organizations."
Banat was reportedly severely beaten by Palestinian security forces after he was arrested Thursday morning. Thousands have protested throughout the West Bank following his death.
Protesters in Hebron and Ramallah accused the PA of carrying out a political assassination, while some clashed with Palestinian police in Ramallah. Protesters also called on President Abbas and the PA to be "overthrown."
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Banat, a former member of the Fatah movement, has been repeatedly arrested by the Palestinian Authority for his sharp criticism of its leadership in Facebook posts and videos. He accused them of corruption, as well as abandoning and profiteering off of Palestinian national interests in return for personal benefit and wealth.
Human rights groups and Banat's family said that the autopsy showed that he suffocated from blood in his lungs after being beaten by security forces. One of the doctors who took part in the autopsy also revealed that Banat suffered injuries to all parts of his body, including his head and limps. The doctor said the circumstances raised suspicion of criminal wrongdoing.