OPT: Al Mezan and Al Dameer - Attacks against Peaceful Assembly in Al Kateeba Square Condemned; Violation of the Law and must Be Investigated

Date: 16 March 2011

Joint Press Release

In the evening hours of Tuesday, 15 March 2011, Gaza's police and security apparatus members forcibly dispersed protestors who were staging a sit-in at Al Kateeba square in Gaza City. Police members, who were also on motorcycles indiscriminately used batons to disperse the protestors. Women, children, young men, journalists, lawyers, and doctors were all participating in the sit-in. According to information available to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and Al Dameer Association for Human Rights, dozens of persons were injured. According to hospitals and medical centers, about 50 persons were injured in the attack and were admitted to hospitals and medical centers. At least six persons were detained in the attack.

Today, Wednesday 16 March 2011, morning a large police force deployed at the entrances of Al Kateeba square and surrounded the Al Azhar University and prevented the university students from leaving. Some persons dressed in civilian clothes beat students. They harassed Al Mezan's fieldworkers and confiscated the cell phone memory card of one fieldworker.

Al Mezan and Al Dameer strongly condemn the attack against peaceful protestors in the Al Kateeba square and the attack on Al Azhar University students. We call for serious investigation into violations committed by law enforcement personnel to begin. We assert that what happened in Gaza last night reflected a serious deterioration in the human rights situation and the rule of law and warrants investigating and punishing all those who violated the law. The Gaza government must ensure full adherence to the law by law enforcement officers and that such practices will not occur again in the future.

According to monitoring conducted by Al Dameer and Al Mezan, groups from the Popular Youth Movement to End the Palestinian Split started to prepare for the 15 March protests since the evening of Monday 14 March 2011. Dozens of them went to the Unknown Soldier Square in Gaza city, pitched tents, brought amplifiers, and started delivering speeches.

The protestors successfully disturbed political speeches given by Fatah, Hamas, and other political faction and asserted that their declines any factional discourse or flags.

In the late evening hours of Monday Hamas supporters brought amplifiers and erected a stage in the Unknown Soldier Square. Activists from the Youth Movement tried to prevent them, but failed. At approximately 11pm that same day, Hamas activists succeeded in erecting a stage and putting their amplifiers in the square.

In early Tuesday 15 March 2011, people started to gather at the Unknown Soldier Square and disputes erupted between groups of protestors. Because of this, groups from the Youth Movement decided to go to Al Kateeba Square and were joined by thousands more people. The field workers from Al Dameer and Al Mezan witnessed clashes involving stone throwing on more than one occasion.

However, cautious calm prevailed in Al Kateeba Square and the protests continued peacefully there. Five nets were erected for journalists, lawyers, pharmacists, doctors, and others to sleep in. At approximately 7pm on Tuesday, 15 March 2011, protestors were shocked when a large force of police and internal security apparatus members, some of them dressed in civilian clothes, started attacking them. They indiscriminately beat protestors with batons.

Al Dameer and Al Mezan employees collected dozens of affidavits from protestors who were beaten. Affidavits show that protestors; including doctors and pharmacists who were dressed in their white uniforms and wearing badges, press photographers and journalists were severely and cruelly beaten. Verbal abuse was also used against demonstrators particularly women. Some journalists were also detained.

Gaza's Ministry of Interior claimed, in a statement on its website, that "groups of people who were at Al Kateeba Square were mostly from the Fatah movement and the Palestinian Authority security apparatus that have no relation with the activities related to ending the Palestinian split. The determined place for the activities was the Unknown Soldier Square." The statement added that "the designated time to end the activities was 5pm on Tuesday, but these groups did not comply with the agreed time and place. They made use of the demonstration atmosphere to cause chaos." The statement added that "these groups chanted provocative slogans against the Gaza Government. Fights erupted between these groups towards the end of the day. Therefore, the security apparatus intervened to contain the situation and to make the Fatah groups respect the security and law." (Unofficial translation by Al Mezan).

Al Mezan and Al Dameer strongly condemn the police and security apparatus violent attack against people participating in peaceful assembly at Al Kateeba Square, their detention, beating and abuse of protestors including girls and women, and the use of force to disperse the demonstration. We consider these acts a severe violation of freedom to peaceful assembly and condemn the way the police and the security apparatuses members dealt with the demonstration and believe that their behavior constitutes a serious breach of conduct. We ask that any forcible violation to people's right to peaceful assembly be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

Al Dameer and Al Mezan assert that the forcible and cruel dispersal of demonstrations violates human rights principles and fundamental freedoms that are ensured by the Palestinian Basic law. We also emphasize that this conduct constitutes a serious threat to the principle of the rule of law. Therefore, we call on the Gaza Government to:

- Promptly initiate an investigation into these attacks, particularly the conduct of the law enforcement officers, and to disclose the results of the investigations.

- Take effective procedures to ensure attacks on peaceful assemblies which violate the law and the guidelines concerning the conduct of law enforcement officers are never repeated.

Finally, Al Dameer and Al Mezan assert that the protection of individual and public freedoms, the most pressing of which are the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of opinion and expression, are constitutional rights ensured in the Palestinian Basic Law and must be respected at all times.