Amro, a Palestinian activist known for opposing settlements in the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested by the Palestinian Authority for criticizing its recent arrests of journalists. Upon his release, Amro called on Mahmoud Abbas to revoke or revise a new law that’s been used to target journalists and activists.
By Oren Ziv/Activestills.org
A Palestinian Authority court on Sunday released prominent activist Issa Amro on bail following his arrest last week for criticizing the PA’s detention and intimidation of journalists. A host of international organizations and lawmakers had condemned the Palestinian Authority for arresting Amro and called for his release over the past week.
Amro was received Sunday afternoon by around 50 fellow activists and supporters outside the Hebron court and later at the headquarters of Youth Against Settlements, a local anti-occupation group he co-founded and runs.
Upon his release, Amro said he will not stop his work fighting the occupation and settlements, and defending Palestinian rights. “This detention will not stop me from resisting the occupation — or the freedom of speech of the Palestinian people,” Amro said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently signed an “Electronic Crimes” decree, effectively curtailing what little free speech existed for Palestinians under Palestinian law, and which was believed to target online dissent against the PA, particularly on social media. The new law was roundly criticized by rights groups in Palestine and around the world. Israel also regularly arrests Palestinians for posts on social media.
Amro called directly on Abbas to revise the new law so that it “respects freedom of speech and freedom of expression for all journalists and all Palestinians.”
Asked for which particular social media post he had been arrested, Amro said: “I was arrested for [publishing] a post on my Facebook account asking to stop intimidating Palestinian journalists and Palestinian human rights defenders.”
Amro was released on bail for 1,000 Jordanian dinars ($1,410 USD).
Amnesty International put out a statement last Monday calling for Amro’s immediate release, saying it was “outrageous that a prominent human rights defender has been arrested simply for voicing his opinion online.”
“Criticizing the authorities should not be a criminal offence,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty. “Issa Amro’s arrest is the latest evidence that the Palestinian authorities are determined to continue with their repressive campaign against free speech.”
On Friday, nine United States members of Congress sent a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urging him to “immediately drop the charges and release the internationally renowned human rights defender Mr. Amro from his unjust detention.”
The Palestinian security forces are not the only ones targeting Amro for his defiant politics and activism. Amro is also currently on trial in an Israeli military court, where almost all of the 18 charges are related to his political activity and nonviolent action. Under Israeli military law, there is no legal avenue for Palestinians to protest or demonstrate politically. Amro’s activism, much of which is the basis for his current charges, has been reported by +972 here, here, here and here.
Thirty-two U.S. congresspeople sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month urging him to intervene on Amro’s behalf with regards to the Israeli army’s charges against him.
Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man and Yael Marom contributed to this report.