ICHR calls on Gaza authorities not to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly

The Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) condemns the denial and dispersal of peaceful assemblies organised by citizens on the occasion of the commemoration of the late President Yasser Arafat. The ICHR believes that this is a violation of a key pillar of the freedom of opinion and expression - a core human right enshrined in law.

According to the ICHR monitoring, on 11 November 2016, Police jeeps dispersed an assembly of almost 100 persons, who gathered near to the Al-Faluja roundabout in the Jabalya refugee camp. On the same day, General Investigations personnel dispersed a gathering of young people in the Unknown Soldier Square in Gaza city. The gathering was called for through social media networks. General Investigations personnel detained a journalist and press photographer. Having confiscated their equipment and deleted photographs they had taken during the assembly, General Investigations personnel released the journalist and photographer at a later time.

On 10 November 2016, disguised in civilian clothes, General Investigations and Internal Security personnel dispersed a number of Fatah members who had gathered in a candlelight vigil in the Al-Shuhada’ Square in the Al-Shati’ refugee camp. Seven persons were detained at the Al-Shati’ Police station and released after they had signed a pledge, stating that they would not participate in other assemblies. On the same day, members of the Democratic Reform Current received a telephone call from the Ministry of Interior, preventing them from organising an event at the Chalets Resort in Gaza on Friday, 11 November 2016. The ICHR views these measures as an encroachment on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which provides the ground for many civil and political rights. Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” These measures also constitute a grave violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 26 of the Covenant safeguards the right to freedom of assembly and highlights that this right “shall not be subject to any restrictions except those which are provided by law, are necessary to protect national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.”

Disruption of peaceful assemblies was not an isolated event, but reflects a public approach to restrict the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the Gaza Strip. 

The ICHR confirms that national laws are consistent with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 26(5) of the Palestinian Amended Basic Law of 2005 provides that private meetings may be conducted without the presence of police personnel. Public meetings, gatherings and processions may also be organised within the limits of the law. In addition, Article 2 of the Law on Public Meetings No. 12 of 1998 provides that “[c]itizens shall have the right to hold public meetings, seminars and processions freely. These may not be infringed upon or restricted except in accordance with the controls provided for under this law.”

Against this background, the ICHR reiterates its call for government bodies to abide by the law, maintain and avoid constraining public freedoms, ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and enable citizens to exercise this right. On 18 October 2016, the ICHR sent a letter to the Gaza-based Ministry of Interior, demanding that citizens be enabled to exercise the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and avoid setting conditions, such as a prior approval of indoor public meetings. The ICHR also stressed the need to offer facilities, ensuring that citizens could organise both public and private peaceful assemblies.