1 Sept. ’10: Palestinian Authority must investigate actions of its forces during dispersal of demonstration

1 Sep 2010

On Wednesday, 25 August 2010, members of a new organization of Palestinian political parties, independent activists, and civil society movements attempted to hold a conference at the Protestant Club in Ramallah, to discuss their opposition to renewal of negotiations with Israel without a freeze on construction in the settlements.

As reported in Ha'aretz, several dozen persons were invited to the conference, but before they could convene, hundreds of young people entered the hall shouting slogans in support of the Palestinian Authority's president, Mahmud Abbas, and waving placards with his picture. B'Tselem's investigation indicates that, following the disruption, the organizers of the conference decided to walk in a procession to the offices of the local television station, Watan, and hold a press conference there. According to Ha'aretz, the young people continued to disrupt the gathering and prevented the participants from holding a peaceful procession. Palestinian police broke up the procession after a vehicle of the PA's General Intelligence Service blocked the marchers' way.

The Palestinian human rights organization al-Haq, whose offices are situated opposite the building where the conference was held, stated that some of its employees went to the spot to document the incident. When one of them, Wisam Ahmad, tried to film the events, a member of the General Intelligence Service attacked him and knocked his camera to the ground. Ahmad picked up the camera and continued filming, but members of the General Intelligence Service, who were in civilian dress, forbid him to film. When he demanded that they explain why it was forbidden, they assaulted him and confiscated his camera. His colleague, Nina ‘Atallah, was injured when she tried to aid him. She was taken to hospital for treatment. In addition to al-Haq's camera, General Intelligence Service members also confiscated film equipment and video tapes from journalists covering the incident. One member of the PLO Supreme Council was arrested during the procession.

The Palestinian Council of Human Rights Organizations condemned the action of the security forces as a violation of the right to demonstrate and the right to free speech of the persons taking part in the conference and the procession. The Palestinian Authority denied any connection with the disturbance of the conference, and the office of President Mahmud Abbas announced the establishment of a commission to investigate the events.

B'Tselem calls on the Palestinian Authority to enable fulfillment of the right to freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate, which are fundamental rights enshrined in international law. The flagrant interference with public assembly as described above seriously infringed the right of free speech, and dispersal of the procession, which according to reports had few participants and was not violent, was a disproportionate infringed the right to demonstrate. The PA must also enable human rights activists to carry out their vital work, in keeping with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, of 1998, which states that human rights activists are entitled to protection in the course of their work. B'Tselem's vast experience shows that filming events live is an important tool in investigating human rights violations, as well as a means to prevent the violations from occurring.

B'Tselem calls on the Palestinian Authority to speedily complete an investigation of the event.