New York, February 3, 2022 – The Palestinian Authority should not contest journalist Abdulrahman Thahir’s appeal and should stop pursuing vague charges against members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On January 20, a magistrate court in the West Bank city of Nablus sentenced Thahir, a freelance TV producer, to three months in prison for defaming authorities, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. Thahir told CPJ that he is appealing his conviction, and will be required to serve the sentence if that appeal fails.
Authorities also charged Thahir with transmitting news that could cause panic and publishing on social media to incite racial strife, but he was acquitted on those charges, according to those reports.
Thahir told CPJ that authorities did not specify the reason for the charges against him, and that throughout his court hearings and interrogations he was not accused of making any specific statements in his journalism or on social media that constituted defamation.
“A Palestinian court’s sentencing of Abdulrahman Thahir on vague defamation charges is disappointing, and shows that authorities will do anything they can to silence and harass independent voices,” said CPJ Senior Middle East and North Africa Researcher Justin Shilad. “Palestinian authorities should not contest Thahir’s appeal, and should cease filing spurious charges against members of the press.”
Thahir produces satirical TV programs focusing on political and social issues for outlets including the Jordanian broadcaster Roya TV and the U.K. broadcaster Al-Araby TV, and publishes programs discussing corruption and other local issues on his Facebook page, where he has about 35,000 followers, the journalist told CPJ.
Previously, the Palestinian Authority’s Preventative Security forces arrested Thahir on August 19, 2020, and released him about one month later. In October 2020, he was separately arrested by Israeli security forces and held for 28 days, he said.
Thahir told CPJ that, during his 2020 detention by Palestinian authorities, Preventive Security forces asked about the political orientations of the channels broadcasting his work and whether he had contact with the Palestinian Authority’s opponents in the U.S. and Europe.
Authorities did not ask him about any particular Facebook post or piece of journalism, nor did they tell him they were investigating him on charges of defaming the authority, which he only learned about during one of his court sessions, he said.
CPJ emailed the public prosecutor’s office of the Palestinian Authority for comment, but did not receive any reply.