Amnesty International, Avaaz, Human Rights Watch, and 7amleh: The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media said in aÂ joint letterÂ to Secretary General of the Council of Ministers Salah Alayan, PalestinianÂ authorities should amend the cyber-crime law to bring it in line with their international legal obligations.
The Justice Ministry has proposed striking some repressive provisions in the 2017 law in response to concerns from civil society groups, but left in place others that would allow disproportionate and arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, privacy, and protection of data.
â€śThe proposed amendments to remove provisions that allow prison sentences and heavy fines for anyone critical of the Palestinian authorities online are a welcome step,â€ť said Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International. â€śBut further changes are required to fully safeguard Palestinian rights to freedom of expression, privacy and protection of data.â€ť
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued theÂ Law on Electronic CrimesÂ by executive decree in July. The authorities subsequently chargedÂ several journalistsÂ as well as a human rights defender,Â Issa Amro, under the law. AfterÂ calls from Palestinian civilÂ society to repeal the law, the Justice Ministry proposed revisions.
PNN furtherÂ reports that Amnesty International, Avaaz, Human Rights Watch, and 7amleh welcome, in their joint letter, proposed amendments that seek to remove provisions that permit the imposition of prison sentences and heavy fines solely for peaceful online criticism of authorities, and urge Palestinian authorities to amend or repeal provisions that allow the authorities to conduct surveillance, force service providers to retain consumer data, and block websites without sufficient safeguards for the rights to free expression and privacy.
â€śThe cybercrime law grants thin-skinned authorities virtually unrestrained power to block websites, conduct surveillance, and assemble reams of data on ordinary people,â€ť saidÂ Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
Under international law, authorities may only restrict free expression if demonstrably necessary and proportionate to protect certain public interests (e.g. national security or public safety, public order, protection of public health or morals) or the rights and freedoms of others â€“ but never solely to restrict peaceful criticism of a political authority. Palestine assumed these legal obligations when it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among other treaties, in 2014.
â€śThe Palestinian authorities should amend the recent cybercrime law to ensure protection rather than violation of Palestinian digital rights and freedom of expression,â€ť said Nadim Nashif, director of 7amleh. â€śPalestinians have long been struggling for freedom and justice and it is critical that freedoms within the virtual sphere are upheld and respected.â€ť
â€śThe law, as it stands now, still violates international treaties the Palestinian government pledged to uphold and breaks a promise authorities made to respect the basic rights of its people,â€ť,â€ť said Fadi Quran, senior campaigner for Palestine at Avaaz. â€śAt this point the Palestinian government should either include all civil society amendments or axe the law.â€ť
Chris Carlson is a student of religion at Mount Mercy University, United States, and has been a regular volunteer with the IMEMC since 2013. He assisted in providing extensive coverage of the 2014 Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip and continues, into the present day, with the issues at hand. He can be reached via email at c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g.