The Palestinian Authority (PA) has blocked 59 Palestinian and Arabic-language news websites, blogs and social media pages that are critical of the PA and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The decision was issued by the Ramallah Magistrate’s Court, but it has been widely reported that this was at the request of the PA Attorney General, Akram Ismail Khatib.
The prosecution argued for the ban on the grounds that the sites disseminate harmful content about the PA and its officials that is likely to be used to incite lawlessness.
The court order states that the websites violate the PA’s Electronic Crimes Law, which Human Rights Watch says is “a tool to silence legitimate free expression and criticism of the authorities”. The law was decreed by President Abbas in 2017, and was met with strong Palestinian rejection.
On Wednesday, Palestinian journalists protested the decision outside the Palestinian High Judicial Council offices in Ramallah, organised by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicates (PJS).
The PJS’ chairman, Nasser Abu Bakr, confirmed the protests would not end until the order is reversed and expressed his belief that “the authorities should reward the Palestinian press instead of blocking and suppressing it”.
In a statement, the PJS said the move represents a “black day for Palestinian journalism and a fatal blow to freedom of expression in the Palestinian arena”, adding that the decision violated an agreement with the PA whereby the Palestinian media could operate freely, with freedom of expression protected.
The Palestinian Youth Media group called the ban a “massacre of freedom” and a “miserable attempt to muzzle” Palestinian journalists.
The PA Attorney General defended the court order saying it came after his office received complaints against the websites. A PA spokesperson stated that it “highly respects the independence of the judicial system”.
Earlier this year, the Reporters Without Borders annual World Press Freedom Index classified the Palestinian Territories as 134 out of 137, the fourth least free region.