Palestinian authorities reportedly arrested Amro, an activist with Youth Against Settlements, for criticizing the PA in a Facebook post. Amro, who is also facing charges in Israeli military court for his political activism, has been recognized by the EU and UN as a human rights defender.
Palestinian security forces arrested human rights defender and well-known Palestinian activist Issa Amro in the West Bank city of Hebron on Monday. The arrest was reportedly related to a Facebook post published by Amro, in which he criticized the Palestinian Authority for arresting a journalist a day earlier.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently signed an “Electronic Crimes” decree, effectively curtailing the little free speech that existed for Palestinians under Palestinian law, and which was believed to target online dissent against the PA, particularly on social media. The new law was roundly criticized by rights groups in Palestine and around the world. Israel also regularly arrests Palestinians for posts on social media.
The Palestinian Preventative Security Service (PSS) summoned Amro, who has been declared a “human rights defender” by the EU and UN, for interrogation about his critical Facebook post on Monday and arrested him at midday.
Amnesty International put out a statement Monday calling for Amro’s immediate release, saying it was “outrageous that a prominent human rights defender has been arrested simply for voicing his opinion online.”
“Criticizing the authorities should not be a criminal offence,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty. “Issa Amro’s arrest is the latest evidence that the Palestinian authorities are determined to continue with their repressive campaign against free speech.”
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also published a statement Monday expressing concern at Amro’s arrest and urging his release.
Last month, Palestinian security forces arrested a large number of journalists in what appeared to be a campaign targeting members of the press working for outlets affiliated with political rivals of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas’s party.
Amro was reportedly able to make a phone call at the time of his arrest to a colleague at Youth Against Settlements, the Hebron-based group he co-founded, during which he sounded a defiant tone.
“All my writings on social media are part of the freedom of opinion and expression stipulated by the Palestinian Basic Law and are protected by all international laws and conventions,” Amro said, according to a press release Youth Against Settlements sent out on Monday night. “My arrest will not affect my defense of human rights and the rights of journalists to exercise their work freely and without pressure from the government.”
Amro has not been heard from since.
The Palestinian security forces are not the only ones targeting Amro for his defiant politics and activism. Amro is also currently on trial in an Israeli military court, where almost all of the 18 charges are related to his political activity and nonviolent action. Under Israeli military law, there is no legal avenue for Palestinians to protest or demonstrate politically. Amro’s activism, much of which is the basis for his current charges, has been reported by +972 here, here, here and here.
In a video interview with +972 Magazine late last year, Amro spoke about the charges against him and why he thinks Israel wants to suppress his and others’ nonviolent resistance to the occupation, particularly in Hebron.
Thirty-two U.S. congresspeople sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month urging him to intervene on Amro’s behalf with regards to the Israeli charges against him.
Freedom of expression should be protected as a universal right.
Yael Marom contributed to this report.