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Human Rights Watch: Palestinian forces arbitrarily arrest, torture critics

By Daniel Uria
Human Rights Watch: Palestinian forces arbitrarily arrest, torture critics
Palestinian security forces stand in front of posters of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at a rally in the Palestinian Authority's headquarters in Ramallah, West Bank. A report by Human Rights Watch released Tuesday stated Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in Gaza routinely arrest and torture peaceful critics and opponents. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 23 (UPI) -- The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in Gaza routinely arrest and torture peaceful critics and opponents, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday.

The 149-page report, "'Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent:' Arbitrary Arrest and Torture Under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas," chronicles scores of arbitrary arrests carried out by PA and Hamas security forces for peaceful criticisms.

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PA security services have targeted supporters of Hamas and vice versa relying on "overly broad" laws that criminalize activity such as causing "sectarian strife" or insulting "higher authorities," in order to detain critics as punishment and deter them from further activism, Human Rights Watch said.

The organization added security forces routinely taunt, threaten, beat and force detainees into painful stress positions for hours at a time.

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"Twenty-five years after Oslo, Palestinian authorities have gained only limited power in the West Bank and Gaza, but yet, where they have autonomy, they have developed parallel police states," said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. "Calls by Palestinian officials to safeguard Palestinian rights ring hollow as they crush dissent."

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Both authorities denied that the alleged abuses amount to more than isolated cases that are later investigated, with the wrongdoers being held accountable.

Human Rights Watch based the report on interviews with 147 witnesses, including former detainees and their relatives, lawyers and representatives of non-governmental groups, and the review of photographic evidence, medical reports and court documents.

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Alaa Zaqeq, 27, told Human Rights Watch he was detained by PA security forces for three weeks in April 2017 due to his activism as a graduate student with a student group affiliated with Hamas.

Zaqeq said he was blindfolded and handcuffed by a plainclothes officer at the Intelligence Services Prison in Jericho and slammed against the wall for 10 minutes before he was transferred from the office to the toilets.

"There they blindfolded me again, handcuffed me behind my back, put a piece of cloth and rope at the center of my handcuffs and pulled it up to the side of the door. There was a hook between the door and the ceiling. They pulled the cloth up, raising my hands behind my back. My legs were not shackled, and the tip of my legs were touching the ground. I was held in this stress position for 45 minutes. An officer hit me with a big stick on my back, between my shoulders, more than once," he said.

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Fouad Jarada, a 34-year-old journalist with the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, said he was arrested by Hamas in June 2017 and detained for two months on charges of "harming revolutionary unity" days after making a Facebook post critical of a Hamas ally and a string of critical news reports.

"I was forced to stand blindfolded the entire day in a room called the bus. There were 5 or 10 people with me. On occasion they sat us down in small chairs, but we needed permission for everything we did, including sleeping or speaking," he said. "I spent 30 days there ... After the first day, the beating started, they asked me to open my hands and started striking me with a cable and whipping my feet."

Human Rights Watch urged governments such as the European Union and the United States to stop providing aid to specific units or agencies named in the report as long as the abuses continue.

"The attacks by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on dissidents and demonstrators, reporters and bloggers, are both systematic and unpunished," Porteous said. "Governments that want to help the Palestinian people develop the rule of law should not support security forces that actively undermine it."

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