Palestine’s cyber-crime law infringing on civic space

Association

Many within Palestinian civil society consider the cyber crime law approved by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) on 24th June 2017 a violation of civil and political rights. Several of the articles in the law infringe upon freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and privacy rights; therefore, Palestinian civil society groups have called on the PNA to suspend the law and organise public debates to find mutually-agreeable amendments to it.

According to Social Media Exchange, three of the law's highly problematic articles include :

  • Article 51, stating that “if a crime is committed online and harms ‘national unity’ or ‘social harmony,’ it will be punishable” by hard labor, ranging between three to 15 years".
  • Articles 32, mandating internet service providers to cooperate with security agencies by collecting, storing, and sharing users’ information data for at least three years, in addition to blocking any website on the orders of the judiciary.
  • Article 40, allowing the Attorney General or one of the assistants to request an order from the court to block any website within 24 hours.

The Palestine NGO Network (PNGO) issued a statement declaring that the law contravenes the Palestinian Basic Law 2005, Art (19,27), which:

“guarantees the respect of freedom of opinion and expression and the rights and freedom of the media” [and] “no warning, suspension, confiscation, cancellation or restriction shall be imposed upon the media expect by law, and pursuant to a judicial ruling”.

Furthermore, PNGO called upon the PNA to abide by its obligations under international human rights law and treaties ratified as such, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19) that guarantees freedom of expression and opinion and freedom of speech.

A negative consequence of the law was seen in early August when five journalists were arrested

Mamduh Hamamra from Bethlehem, a correspondent with Al-Quds News

Amer Abu Arafeh from Hebron with Shehab News Agency

Tariq Abu Zeid from Jenin with Al-Aqsa TV 

Ahmad Halaiqa from Hebron with Al-Quds News  

Qutaybeh Salem from Bethlehem, a freelance journalist 

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) noted that these five journalists were arrested on 8th August and charged under the cyber-crimes law. They were released on unpaid bail on 14th August. In addition to the journalists' arrests, on 17th July PNGO’s national advocacy coordinator was arrested at his home in Birzeit, allegedly due to his Facebook activity. He was released the next day when it became clear that no legal warrant had been issued for the arrest.

MADA estimates that, as of July, the authorities had blocked access to 30 websites. 

Civil society continues to monitor violations of Israeli occupying forces of freedom of expression and media. In its semi-annual report, MADA notes that Israeli violations included 12 different types, with five serious types (physical attacks, arrest and detention, confiscation and detention of equipment, destruction of equipment and closure of institutions) accounting for 64 percent of the total Israeli attacks. Physical attacks (injuries and beatings) accounted for 34 percent of the total number of Israeli violations, showing the grave threat the occupying forces pose to media professionals and outlets.