Human Rights Watch: Palestinian forces arbitrarily arrest, torture critics

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.

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.

"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."

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.

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

"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

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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