Palestine: Authorities must drop charges against human rights defender Issa Amro for peaceful criticism
The prosecution of Issa Amro, a prominent Palestinian human rights defender, over a social media post critical of the Palestinian authorities is another devastating blow for freedom of expression in Palestine, said Amnesty International ahead of his first court hearing on 28 March.
Issa Amro, a founding member of the Youth Against Settlements group, was arrested by Palestinian security forces on 4 September 2017 after criticizing the Palestinian authorities on Facebook for arresting a journalist in Hebron who had been critical of President Mahmoud Abbas.
“It is disgraceful that Issa Amro is facing a prison term simply for expressing his views promoting human rights online. The Palestinian authorities should drop all charges against him immediately. Criticising an official should never be a crime. If imprisoned Issa Amro would be a Prisoner of Conscience,” said Saleh Higazi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
Upon his arrest by the Preventative Security Force in 2017 Issa Amro was detained for seven days during which he was allegedly tortured by interrogators from the Joint Security Committee, a body that with membership from different security forces. He told Amnesty International that he was held in solitary confinement for five days and that he was punched and threatened with death by interrogators. He was then released on a $1,400 bail.
He has been charged with disturbing “public order” under Palestine’s draconian Electronic Crimes Law, as well as “causing strife” and “insulting the higher authorities” under the 1960 Jordanian Penal code which is still enforced in the West Bank. If convicted, he faces up to two years in prison and a fine.
When he was released after nearly a week in detention he was told that his case was being frozen as the charges would be dropped and the case closed. However, last month a Palestinian court in Hebron reopened his case in an apparent effort to intimidate him into giving up his ongoing work highlighting both Israeli and Palestinian violations.
“The Palestinian authorities have a dire track record of harassing and intimidating peaceful critics and human rights activists. The ongoing persecution of Issa Amro is a dire sign than these unlawful trends are perpetuating. The upcoming new government headed by prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh must signal quickly that is not the case and show real commitment to protecting the right of human rights defenders such as Isaa Amro”, said Saleh Higazi.
Death threats and intimidation
Issa Amro told Amnesty International that he had received death threats on social media and over the phone from supporters of Fatah, the Palestinian political party in power in the West Bank. He said that he feared for his personal safety and added that Palestinian authorities had also threatened those close to him to stop them from co-operating with him or with the organization Youth Against Settlements (YAS) which he is associated with.
Last month, Fatah released a press statement urging civil society organizations in Hebron not to work with Issa Amro or Youth Against Settlements and warning that those who do so would face retribution.
Issa Amro said that Israeli settlers in Hebron have increased their intimidation and incitement against him and members of Youth Against Settlements following the Fatah press statement.
“The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank have a duty to ensure that human rights defenders such as Issa Amro are free to carry out their work without threat, intimidation, or abuse; failure to protect such activities and deliberate interference in their work is a flagrant violation of international law,” said Saleh Higazi.
The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank should also stop using the repressive Electronic Crimes Law to persecute peaceful critics and activists and should instead reform this law to bring it in line with its obligations under international human rights law, or repeal it altogether.
“For over 50 years, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been subjected to systematic human rights violations under Israel’s brutal occupation. Activists like Issa Amro, who are uncovering what’s truly happening on the ground so that people can seek justice and redress, must be able to work without arbitrary interference,” said Saleh Higazi.
Issa Amro is also being tried by an Israeli military court on 18 charges which all relate to his peaceful activism in Hebron. The next hearing for this trial is on 1 April.
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