The Palestinian Authority Fails to Uphold Freedom of Speech
Since the establishment of its authority in parts of the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has demonstrated it is no different from that of most Middle East governments in its lack of true democratic institutions. Although the suffocation of human rights and oppression of free speech is no shocking matter in the Middle East, the Palestinian experience carried special characteristics, as Israel remains an occupier and no meaningful sovereignty for the PA yet exists.
The Palestinian media have recently joined other Arab news organizations in Iraq, Tunisia, Kuwait, and elsewhere in their criticism of Qatar based Al Jazeera satellite station. Although each country's accusations appear different, they all share similar substance; Al Jazeera is sponsoring a radical reading of history and politics, and advocates a deliberate bias against their governments.
But the PA's uneasy relationship with the media is hardly limited to foreign outlets. A battle between the PA police and the local Palestinian news media took place almost immediately after the PA's formation. The authority exercised its limited power to shut down newspapers, television and radio stations and to detain journalists and other outspoken critics.
However, five years after the awaited delivery of the Palestinian Printing and Publication law of 1995, the PA's transgressions against private stations, newspapers, and intellectuals who are affiliated with these ventures are on the rise.
On May 30, the Police's Criminal Department officials had orders to close Al Nasr TV in Ramallah. The head of the squad, sent to close the station down, failed to present a warrant or any other written document that could possibly legitimize such an action. Once the police realized the same owner of the TV station also owns and operates Al Manara radio station located in the same building, the police decided the radio station should also be closed.
Al Manara joins a list of other broadcasters who have faced closures this year. Al Nasr station was shut down for the fourth time recently, and Watan TV was closed down for the fifth time on May 21, though it was reopened a few days later. Earlier that month, " Love and Peace" radio station was also closed down, for the fourth time, and was reopened days later.
In addition to the alarming trends of closures, journalists, human rights activists, and opposition leaders were also tracked down by the Palestinian Preventive Security Service (PSS), and were detained, mostly without legal warrants or reasonable justification. The recent arrests of opposition and human rights activists, and the continual detention of others, have all contributed to the increasing lack of trust in the PA's competence to uphold the universal principals of human rights and freedom of speech.
The crackdown seems to be motivated by much more that the criticism of the PA leadership. Security Service officers are punishing critics of the Israeli government as well. Just last month, PA police following the ten-days of protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the release of 2,000 Palestinian prisoners initiated an arrest campaign of organizers of the event.
The PA's undermining of freedom in the areas it governs, is unethical, politically harmful for the cause of the Palestinian people, and is likely to jeopardize the establishment of a truly independent Palestinian state. Introducing bills and passing laws is doubtlessly essential, yet honoring such laws is the greater challenge. The PA is viewed by large segments of the Palestinian society as a hit man for Israel, assigned to only implement Israel's wishes. Such a portrayal didn't come to view by mere chance, but after years of a systematic oppression against those who dared to disagree with the PA and Israel's secret deals, and their hardly beneficial outcomes.
Topics: Human Rights, Occupation, Palestine