Ramallah (QNN) – On June 9, Palestinian journalist Sami al-Sai posted on Facebook a video about the sale of watermelons in the West Bank city of Tulkarm that were grown in Jericho. The video contained no obvious political content, but a Tulkarm community Facebook page where residents had posted about corruption and other scandals in the city, some critical of Palestinian Authority (PA) officials, then shared it. Less than an hour later, PA forces arrested al-Sai near where he had recorded the video.
More than two weeks later, al-Sai is still in detention. His lawyer, Ahmad Barham from Lawyers for Justice, told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors, in a June 11 court hearing to authorize al-Sai’s pretrial detention, asked only about his client’s involvement with the Facebook page.
The official readout of the hearing from the court’s website, reviewed by Human Rights Watch, says authorities are investigating al-Sai on four preliminary charges: “slander” of the PA, “disparagement via the internet,” publishing information that constitutes “unlawful interference in the private or family life of individuals”, and “threatening or blackmailing” a person.
The charges, circumstances of his arrest, and question asked in the court hearing note that authorities are holding al-Sai over suspicions he is involved with the Facebook page, but Barham says his client denies having any ties.
Also, Israeli authorities detained al-Sai for more than eight months over Facebook posts in 2016, which a military court found amounted to “incitement” under military law.
Human Rights Watch has documented the systematic practice of PA forces arbitrarily arresting and torturing critics and opponents, including for peaceful expression. Data provided by the PA to HRW indicates that the PA detained 752 Palestinians over social media posts between January 1, 2018, and March 30, 2019.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh vowed in a July 2019 meeting with Human Rights Watch that there would be “no arrests or persecution” of Palestinians for peaceful free expression. If he is serious, he should release al-Sai from detention.