Palestinian Authority blocks critical websites

The Palestinian Authority has blocked at least eight websites from Internet users in the West Bank. Here, Palestinian youths go online at an Internet cafe. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

New York, April 24, 2012--The Palestinian Authority has blocked up to eight critical news websites in the West Bank since February, according to a report released by an independent news agency on Monday.

The websites, Amad, Fatah Voice, Firas Press, In Light Press, Karama Press, Kofia Press, Milad News, and Palestine Beituna, have been inaccessible to most Internet users in the West Bank since early February, according to a report released by the Bethlehem-based Ma'an News Agency. The largest Internet service provider, Palestinian Telecommunications Company, has blocked all eight of the websites, while smaller providers have blocked only a few, George Hale, the author of the Ma'an report, told CPJ. The websites are based in Jordan, Egypt, and other countries outside the Palestinian territories, Hale said. Ma'an partnered with the Open Observatory of Network Interference, a new project by Web security experts, to track the censorship.

Unidentified Palestinian officials told Ma'an that the order to block the websites came from Ahmad al-Mughni, the Palestinian attorney general. The websites are all critical of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Fatah member, and were considered sympathetic to Muhammad Dahlan, a former Fatah leader and a critic of Abbas, Hale told CPJ. The Authority and Dahlan have been locked in an internal feud since last summer when it tried to expel Dahlan and security forces raided his home, the report said.

"For a free online press, the Internet has to be open for everyone." said Danny O'Brien, CPJ's Internet Advocacy Coordinator. "By blocking these websites, the Palestinian Authority is creating a dangerous new infrastructure for the suppression of speech in its own country."

This act of censorship follows the arrest of a critical journalist by the Palestinian Authority in early April for writing about alleged corruption and spying by the Palestinian diplomatic mission in France.

In separate developments, Israeli authorities have extended the administrative detention of at least three Palestinian journalists without charge, according to news reports. The decisions by Israeli military courts to extend the detentions were made over the past three months.

CPJ has documented the arrests and detentions of the journalists. Walid Khalid Harb, the director of the Gaza-based Falastin, was imprisoned on May 8, 2011, and his detention was extended for six months in February, according to his employer. Nawaf al-Amer, the satellite program coordinator for the London-based Al-Quds TV, was imprisoned on June 28, 2011, and his detention was extended for three months in April, news reports said. Amer Abu Arafa, a correspondent for the Gaza-based Shihab News Agency, was imprisoned on August 21, 2011, and his detention was extended for six months in February, according to news reports.

No formal charges have been brought against any of the journalists. Under administrative detention procedures, Israeli authorities may hold detainees for six months without charge or trial and then extend the detention an unlimited number of times.

Another journalist, Amin Abu Wardeh, who works for the Palestinian News Network and the UAE-based daily Al-Khaleej, was imprisoned on December 28, 2011, and remains in detention with no formal charges lodged against him, according to news reports.

The trial of a fifth Palestinian journalist, Radio Marah host Raed al-Sharif, who was imprisoned on November 14 and is being held in an Israeli detention facility in the West Bank, was postponed for the fourth time on April 18, local press freedom groups reported. No charges have been brought against him.

April 24, 2012 5:39 PM ET |

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