New York, June 21, 2017–The Palestinian Authority should cease blocking access to news websites in the West Bank, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The Palestinian Authority’s attorney general, Ahmad Barrak, on June 15 ordered internet service providers to block access to at least 11 news websites, according to news reports.
Nabhan Khraishi, communications officer for the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, told CPJ that the syndicate was investigating reports that as many as 22 news websites had in fact been blocked. Khraishi said the syndicate planned to file a formal complaint with the prosecutor’s office regarding the censorship.
The censored websites include Palestine Now, Palestine Today, the Shehab News Agency, Amameh, Amad, the Palestine News Network, the Palestinian Information Center, Karama Press, Fateh Voice, the Palestine Press News Agency, and Firas Press. Khraishi said all of the blocked websites are either affiliated with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, or with Mohammad Dahlan, the exiled former head of security in the Gaza Strip who was in 2011 expelled from the Fatah movement that dominates the Palestinian Authority. The attorney general’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah and employees of the websites were not available for comment.
“Palestinian journalists and readers should not bear the brunt of politicians’ disputes,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “We call on the Palestinian Authority to cease censoring news websites, to allow readers in the West Bank unimpeded access to news and information and to let Palestinians form their own opinions.”
The Mada Center, a Palestinian press freedom group, quoted employees from the Shehab News Agency and Amad as saying that authorities did not notify them that their websites would be censored. Both agencies learned of the order when they complained to their internet service providers. A follow-up report from Maan News Agency quoted an unnamed senior Palestinian official as saying that the websites were banned because of pending criminal cases against them, and for spreading “false news.”