Human Rights Watch yesterday accused the Palestinian Authority of launching a political campaign of arrests against university students because of their affiliation with Hamas or political criticism, some of them were ill-treated in detention.
“It is deeply worrying that students are being held by Palestinian forces for no apparent reason other than their connection to Hamas or their opinions,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director said. “Palestinians should be able to express critical political opinions without being arrested or beaten,” she added.
According to the organisation, on 25 April, three days after Hamas’s victory at BirZeit University’s student council elections, Palestinian security forces arrested Jihad Salim, a student representative of a Hamas affiliated student group, detained and beat him for 24 hours.
Salim told Human Rights Watch: “The officers forced him to stand with his legs and arms spread apart from 11pm to 10:30am and then continued the interrogation until they released him at about 5pm. They refused to give him food or water.”
The PA security forces also arrested Ayman Abu-Aram, a former student representative of Hamas at BirZeit University, and detained him for 24 hours, according to his lawyer.
The Palestinian security forces arrested Ayman Mahariq in November last year, a journalism student at Al-Quds University. Mahariq was held for 30 days for criticising the Palestinian security services on Facebook.
The security forces also arrested Bara Al-Qadi, a media student at Birzeit University in January 2015 for criticising a Palestinian Authority official on Facebook. Al-Qadi was released after 13 days.
A spokesman for the Palestinian security forces, Adnan Al-Dimiri acknowledged that there had been arrests but refused to indicate how many people had been held or to confirm specific cases. He denied that there was any political motivation for the arrests.
“We never arrest people for their speech or for their political affiliations,” he said, adding “these people have been arrested for the criminal charge of incitement of sectarian violence and other criminal charges.”