Palestinian journalist pardoned for insulting president

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pardoned Al-Quds TV journalist Mamdouh Hamamreh on March 28, 2013, the same day that a West Bank appeals court upheld his one-year sentence for insulting the presidency, according to news reports.

The Palestinian court upheld Hamamreh’s conviction, ruling that a picture posted on his Facebook account was insulting to President Abbas. News reports said Hamamreh did not post the photo himself, but had merely been “tagged” by another person. The image compared the president to a well-known fictional character that collaborated with French colonial forces in Syria.

Hamamreh was arrested by Palestinian intelligence officers in September 2009, a few days after the photo was posted on Facebook, according to news reports and human rights groups. In May 2012, a court sentenced him to a year in prison, but he was released on bail pending appeal. After his conviction was upheld, he was briefly re-arrested before Abbas issued the pardon.

Abbas’s press office released the statement hours after the court ruling that announced the pardon and said the president had been “disturbed” by the court ruling and had had no role in pursuing the complaint against the journalist, according to news reports.

Hamamreh is the second Palestinian to be pardoned by Abbas after being convicted for insulting the presidency, news reports said. A local citizen, Anas Awad, was pardoned after being sentenced in February 2013 for posting a picture of Abbas on Facebook that said he was a new player for the Spanish soccer club Real Madrid.

According to the Palestinian press freedom group MADA, Hamamreh and Awad were both sentenced under Jordanian Penal Law No. 16 of 1960. The law, a relic from the period when Jordan directly controlled the West Bank, prohibits any citizen from insulting the king. At the time, there was no Palestinian president and the law does not refer to one.