ICHR calls for releasing persons detained on political grounds and empowering citizens to exercise the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly

6 January 2019

1/2019

 

ICHR calls for releasing persons detained on political grounds and empowering citizens to exercise the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly

 

The Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) has been monitoring the developments associated with Fatah movement’s invitation to commemorate the 54th anniversary of its foundation in the Gaza Strip. Fatah called for observing the national tradition of lighting the flame on 31 December 2018 in the Unknown Soldier Square and for participating in the commemoration festival on 7 January 2019 in the Al-Saraya Square. The ICHR views with concern the attendant violations, which have affected a set of rights and freedoms enshrined in the Palestinian Basic Law, particularly the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and right to freedom of expression. The ICHR is also concerned about compliance with the legal standards for summonses, detentions, and arrests.

According to the ICHR monitoring, and based on the statements it has received over the past few days, dozens of members of the Fatah movement in the Gaza Strip were summoned, detained, and arrested across the Gaza Strip governorates. These included 52 citizens in Central Gaza, 87 in Northern Gaza, 13 in Southern Gaza, and 73 in Gaza. Summonses were served to Fatah leaders by the Internal Security agency, which is not statutorily vested with judicial powers. Citizens were summoned to the Internal Security offices throughout the Gaza Strip by telephone calls. This was a clear violation of the procedures for summonses and detentions provided for by the Law of Penal Procedure No. 3 of 2001. In particular, Article 21 and 29 of the Law determine the security agencies vested with judicial tasks as well as the criteria to be fulfilled during the detention process.

Pursuant to the statements received by the ICHR, dozens of citizens continue to be detained. Of these, many have been detained for hours at a time. Contrary to the law, the minimum level of necessary requirements for detention are not provided. A number of citizens have been detained in a small open-top room of no more than 3 square metres, where almost 12 people are held in the bitter cold. During detention, Internal Security personnel do not offer any meals to detained persons. According to their statements, a number of summoned persons were subject to threats, forcing them not to participate in Fatah’s commemoration festival events.  

Meantime, security forces searched a number of houses and confiscated hundreds of Fatah banners, Palestinian flags, as well as pictures of the late President Yasser Arafat and President Mahmoud Abbas. Before they were released, detained persons were forced to sign pledges, stating that they would not take part in the said events or publish any statements or positions on their social media pages. The ICHR also monitored abuses of the right to freedom of expression, affecting many journalists against the background of media coverage and professional work. In this context, the ICHR contacted Dr. Tahseen al-Astal, Chair of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate (PJS), who confirmed that a number of journalists were frequently summoned, detained from 08:00 am until 10:00 pm, and released on the condition that they should come back the next day. These included Lu’ay al-Ghoul, PJS Secretary, Sameh al-Jidi, ‘Ahed Farawneh, and Tawfiq Abu Jarad, Additionally, many citizens have been detained on the grounds of posts on social media networks, supporting Fatah and calling for participation in commemoration events.

Lu’ay al-Ghoul reported that he was beaten and deliberately insulted in front of other detainees. Al-Ghoul was also threatened after his wife had posted the writ of summons, which was served to him, on Facebook.

Also, according to the ICHR monitoring, journalists were preventing from publishing the Fatah statement on its commemoration festival. These were forced to sign pledges, undertaking that they would not publish any news or statements relating to Fatah, nor participate in the planned events.

Earlier, the ICHR published a position paper on the Gaza-based security agencies, which violated legal procedures pertaining to the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression during the flame lighting event on 31 December 2018. The ICHR called for putting an end to abuses and complying with legal standards for the protection of the enshrined rights of citizens.

In addition, the ICHR monitored many peaceful assemblies, which were violently dispersed. These included assemblies organised by Fatah female activists, with no regard for the special protection to be provided to women in accordance with the law. Of particular note, the ICHR received a complaint from Hind Subhi Hashem Abu al-Nada, a resident of Northern Gaza and Assistant to the Legal Advisor to the General Union of Palestinian Women. According to observations by an ICHR female field researcher, Hind sustained contusions in various parts of her body, demonstrating she had been beaten while she was present in the Unknown Soldier Square in Gaza city.

The ICHR is of the view that the monitored abuses were in direct violation of Articles 11, 12, 13, 19 and 26 of the Basic Law; Article 2 of the Law on Public Meetings No. 12 of 1998, which does not require that a licence be obtained to organise public assemblies; Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which ensures the right to freedom of peaceful assembly; and provisions of the Penal Procedure Law which establish the legal standards for detention and arrest and exclusively identify competent authorities vested with judicial powers.

Against this background, the ICHR calls for:

  1. Immediately releasing persons detained on the grounds of political opinions or right to freedom of peaceful assembly in detention centres.
  2. Suspending summonses and detentions of citizens against the backdrop of their political opinions.
  3. Empowering citizens to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. These rights may only be restricted in accordance with the controls and criteria endorsed by the law.
  4. Protecting freedom of the press and enabling journalists to carry out their professional work. Freedom of the press may not be unduly constrained in contravention of the law.

 

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