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Global rights groups urge Palestinian Authority to reform law

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Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Avaaz and 7amleh: The Arab Centre for the Advancement of Social Media have urged the Palestinian Authority (PA) to amend its controversial cybercrime law so as “to bring it in line with their international legal obligations”.

While the PA has proposed striking some repressive provisions in the 2017 law in response to concerns from civil society groups, it has “left in place others that would allow disproportionate and arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, privacy and protection of data”.

“The proposed amendments to remove provisions that allow prison sentences and heavy fines for anyone critical of the Palestinian authorities online are a welcome step,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“But further changes are required to fully safeguard Palestinian rights to freedom of expression, privacy and protection of data.”

Read: PA blocks protest against cybercrime law

According to HRW, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “issued the Law on Electronic Crimes by executive decree in July. The authorities subsequently charged several journalists as well as a human rights defender, Issa Amro, under the law. After calls from Palestinian civil society to repeal the law, the Justice Ministry proposed revisions.”

“The cybercrime law grants thin-skinned authorities virtually unrestrained power to block websites, conduct surveillance, and assemble reams of data on ordinary people,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

In a joint letter to the Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers. Salah Alayan, the groups welcomed “proposed amendments that seek to remove provisions that permit the imposition of prison sentences and heavy fines solely for peaceful online criticism of authorities”.

They also “urge Palestinian authorities to amend or repeal provisions that allow the authorities to conduct surveillance, force service providers to retain consumer data, and block websites without sufficient safeguards for the rights to free expression and privacy.”

Read: Fierce cyberattacks on Palestine

“The Palestinian authorities should amend the recent cybercrime law to ensure protection rather than violation of Palestinian digital rights and freedom of expression,” said Nadim Nashif, director of 7amleh. “Palestinians have long been struggling for freedom and justice and it is critical that freedoms within the virtual sphere are upheld and respected.”

The law, as it stands now, still violates international treaties the Palestinian government pledged to uphold and breaks a promise authorities made to respect the basic rights of its people

said Fadi Quran, senior campaigner for Palestine at Avaaz. “At this point the Palestinian government should either include all civil society amendments or axe the law.”

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