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Palestinian activist Issa Amro ends hunger strike in PA jail

Sept. 9, 2017 8:17 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 17, 2017 2:26 P.M.)
Issa Amro being taken from the PA courtroom in Hebron on Dep. 7. (Youth Against Settlements)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro, imprisoned for criticizing the Palestinian Authority (PA) on Facebook, has ended a hunger strike in a PA detention center after authorities gave into his demands for improved conditions.

Youth Against Settlement (YAS), a group based in the southern occupied West Bank city of Hebron headed by Amro that is dedicated to non-violent resistance against the Israeli occupation, announced on Saturday that PA authorities agreed to allow Amro’s family to visit him, and has also provided the detainee with fresh clothes, a towel, and food from his family.

YAS previously reported that since Amro was arrested on Monday, he had been held in “a tiny, filthy cell.” Reports had also emerged that Amro was being being held in a shower instead of a normal prison cell, and that guards had threatened to beat and even kill him.

Amro was charged on Thursday under the PA's controversial Cyber Crimes Law, which Amnesty International said “marks a dramatic escalation in the Palestinian authorities’ onslaught against freedom of expression.”

In a closed hearing in a Hebron district court, the EU-declared human rights defender was charged with “disturbing the public order,” under the new law, passed by presidential decree in June. He was also charged with “causing strife” and “insulting the higher authorities” under the 1960 Jordanian Penal code that is still enforced in the West Bank, according to Amnesty International.

His detention was also extended for four additional days at the hearing.

Amro was detained after he denounced the PA for arresting Palestinian journalist Ayman Qawasmeh the day prior.

Qawasmeh, the director of of Hebron’s Manbar al-Hurriya radio station, who has since been released without conditions, was also detained for criticizing the PA on Facebook. After Israeli forces raided and shut down his radio station, the journalist condemned the PA for failing to protect Palestinian institutions from Israeli forces.

As Qawasmeh languished in a Hebron jail, Amro wrote on Facebook that Palestinian authorities were threatening journalists not to publicize Qawasmeh’s arrest. The activist also called on the PA to respect and protect international and domestic law in the post.

Magdalena Mughrabi, the Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, described the decision to charge Amro as “an alarming development which demonstrates the lengths to which the Palestinian authorities are prepared to go to silence peaceful critics,” in Amnesty’s statement.

“The fact that the Palestinian authorities are so quickly making use of the newly adopted cybercrimes law to crush dissent is deeply disturbing,” she said, adding that the decree “blatantly flouts international law and violates the people’s rights to privacy; it should be immediately repealed -- not used to put peaceful critics behind bars.”

Amnesty said that it had sent a letter to the PA attorney general expressing concerns about the law, to which Ahmad Barak responding by saying the decree would not be used to curb freedom of expression and that any criticism of the “Palestinian government, president, officials or political parties” would not be penalized under this law.

The head of the southern district's office of the Independent Commission for Human Rights Farid al- Atrash, who was present at Amro’s hearing on Thursday, told Amnesty International: “This is dark day for the history of Palestinian justice, the court should have protected Issa’s right to freedom of expression.”

The PA’s case against Amro also comes as the human rights defender faces 18 charges in Israeli military court related to his activism and organizing protests against Israel’s discriminatory policies in Hebron in violation of international law.

Under Military Order 101, Israeli authorities have arrested and detained hundreds of thousands of Palestinians over the past five decades -- including women and children -- simply for attending peaceful protests that were deemed by Israeli forces to be political.

“The fact that both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities are harassing Issa Amro in connection with his peaceful activism illustrates just how much the space for freedom of expression for human rights activists is shrinking -- they are under attack from both sides,” Mughrabi continued in Amnesty’s statement.

YAS called on Palestinians and Amro’s supporters worldwide to take to Twitter on Saturday under the hashtag #StandWithIssa, to demand that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah immediately order Amro's release and protect the right to freedom of speech.
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