from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

"Insulting the President:" A Crime in Ramallah

March 28, 2013

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I’ve written before (here) about the epidemic of prosecutions by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president for the "crime" of insulting him.

That epidemic is spreading to the West Bank, where the Court of Appeal in Bethlehem just affirmed the one-year jail sentence of a journalist for the "crime" of insulting Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. The court also said the TV journalist Mahdouh Hamamreh had been guilty of broadcasting "false news"-- another catch-all that allows a government to throw journalists in jail for saying things the government and its leaders just don’t like.

Abbas is, I think, playing with fire here. The PA is perennially short of funds and reliant on American and European aid. Turning the PA back into the kind of dictatorship we saw under Arafat will endanger that aid, as it should. Punishing people for the "crime" of "insulting the president" will appear to European and American legislators to be particularly repellent to their democratic traditions--as it is to international human rights laws. The PA Magistrates Court and Court of Appeal have now acted, and it is time for Abbas to act: to pardon Hamamreh and to order to prosecutors to stop this farce.

UPDATE: President Abbas did promptly pardon Hamamreh. Smart move--but now he should instruct prosecutors that no one should ever be prosecuted for "insulting the president."

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