On 10 January 2008, Palestinian police attacked a peaceful march organized by the Palestinian National and Islamic Factions in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Eyewitnesses reported to Al Mezan Center that journalists are being pursued and arrested by Palestinian security forces because of the nature of their work and their political orientation.
According to Al Mezan field investigations, which were based on testimonies of some victims, at approximately 11:45am, on 10 January 2008, Palestinian security forces used excessive force in order to disperse a peaceful demonstration that was organized by the National and Islamic Factions in Ramallah.
The demonstrators were supposed to gather in the Orthodox Sports Club, near a secondary school in the town and move towards the Al Manara Square, Ramallah's center. One demonstrator, who was carrying copies of a press release denouncing Bush's visit and underscoring fundamental rights for Palestinians, was attacked by Palestinian policemen and security forces. That press release was issued by the National and Islamic Factions.
The security forces also seized banners critical of Bush's visit. Others were told to open their banners to see what was written on them. All this happened before the march moved.
According to the testimony of some witnesses, those who organized the march made tremendous effort to maintain calm and prevent any friction with the police.
The security forces assaulted a number of young men and women who were participating in the march using batons and tear gas. PFLP member, Bashir El-Kheiri, stated that while he was trying to convince members of the police not to arrest one young man, he was suddenly hit from behind and knocked to the ground. Mr. El-Kheiri was seriously injured, as his left shoulder was broken.
He was admitted to the hospital for treatment. After that he was transferred to Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Ramallah, he was had to wait for about three hours without any medical aid. The doctor, who was the presidential compound (Al Mukata'a), could not reach the hospital owing to the security arrangements that the PNA made for the visit of the US president. After waiting for hours, he was transferred to the Palestinian Red Crescent Hospital in Ramallah, where a doctor from Jerusalem was summoned to treat him.
Organizers and participants in the march, many of whom were beaten or suffocated by inhaling tear gas, told Al Mezan that instructions were clear for all participants to preserve peace. Participants were instructed further to avoid any friction with security forces and the police. The police provoked the participants and, then, they used violence and beat some of them with their fists and batons. PLC members, Khaleda Jarrar and Bassam El-Salhi, suffered tear gas inhalation. The march was attacked by the police despite that its organizers were issued a permit to hold the rally from the Minister of Interior and the Governor of Ramallah.
On 5 January 2008, four journalists were arrested and subjected to torture in the West Bank. They were also forced to sign pledges that explicitly stated their intent not to disrupt security or incite against the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). In a statement to Al Mezan, the victims said they were arrested only because they were journalists.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemns using unjustifiable violence against Palestinian citizens practicing their right to peaceful assembly, which the Palestinian law and human rights standards guarantee. Under Palestinian law, citizens are required to only notify the authorities of their plans to organize peaceful marches; but not to request a license for them. The police and security officers who ordered and/or exercised such excessive, illegal violence must be held accountable for their conduct.
The Center calls on the PNA in Ramallah to initiate an investigation into these events and to ensure that those who were involved be brought to justice in accordance with the law. Al Mezan also emphasizes the importance of protecting the right of freedom of speech and expression under the law. It also calls for ensuring due respect for journalists and the media and investigating assaults and arbitrary detentions targeting them.