OPT: Police in Gaza bans conference at Ramattan, launches arrest and summons campaign to prevent commemoration of death of Yasser Arafat

Al Mezan and Al-Dameer Condemn Restricting Freedoms and Free Expression; Call on Gaza Government to Respect the Law and to Protect Freedoms

Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights and Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights condemn the serious infringements on public freedoms and the illegal arrests and intimidation by the security forces in the Gaza Strip. They call on the Gaza Government to end the restrictions on free expression and release all those who have been detained illegally during the past week.

Since Saturday 7 November 2009, the Gaza Government police and security apparatuses have launched summoning and arrests campaign against Fatah members and supporters in the Gaza Strip. The step is believed to be a 'precautionary' step to prevent any activities commemorating the fifth anniversary of the passing away of former President, Yasser Arafat. Al Mezan and Al-Dameer have documented cases in which the internal security apparatus chased away under 18's to prevent them from posting posters of the former president and Fatah slogans.

Following these practices, the Committee for National and Islamic Action decided to cancel its activities planned to take place in the context of the commemoration, which they had planned to hold at the Rashad Al-Shawa Cultural Centre in Gaza City. It's worth mentioning that the Committee had consent from the Gaza Government to hold these activities. The Committee decided to hold a press conference to announce the cancelling of the activities and to explain the reasons behind this decision.

In the evening hours of Tuesday 10 November, while seven of the committee members were preparing themselves to start the press conference, a number of armed men in civilian clothes broke into the conference hall at Ramattan News Agency in Gaza City. One of them introduced himself as the Director of the Gaza Investigation Police. He said that members of internal security apparatus and Investigation Police accompanied him. Directly after this, one of the armed men ordered the Committee members to hand the video tapes of Ramattan and Al Quds TV to him. He also ordered the Committee members to leave the hall immediately before he left. Mr. Khalid Abu Sharikh, one of the Committee members, tried to explain the content of the press conference and that there was no reason for which security forces needed to intervene. The Director of the Investigation Police responded that he had clear orders to cancel the press conference. He also said that the organizers of the press conference did not have permission to hold it.

When the Committee members left the conference hall, the Director of the Investigation Police ordered the correspondents of several news agencies, who had gathered to cover the press conference not to circulate information or to talk about what happened in the news. Therefore, Ramattan Agency's administration announced that it would suspend their Agency's work in protest at this unjustified violation.

Al Mezan and Al-Dameer strongly condemn the arrest campaign launched by the Gaza Government's internal security apparatus and police force against Fatah leaders and members in order to prevent activities commemorating the late president Yasser Arafat.

Al Mezan and Al-Dameer assert that these arrests, which are taking place both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, are political arrests which violate Palestinian law and human rights principles. Al Mezan and Al-Dameer also condemn the forced entry into Ramattan News Agency and the banning of the conference and view these actions as grave violations of the right to free expression.

Al Mezan and Al-Dameer assert that the systematic attacks carried-out by the Fatah and Hamas movements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip respectively against their political opponents seriously affects the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. Both parties must not justify violating the law on the basis of law violations perpetrated by other parties. These practices weaken Palestinian society which must be unified internally in order to confront the crimes perpetrated by the State of Israel.

Al Mezan and Al-Dameer stress the following:

1. The late president Yasser Arafat is held to be a national Palestinian leader by all Palestinians, including the Hamas movement and all Palestinians have the right to commemorate his death.

2. The Public Meetings Law No. 12 of 1998 guarantees the right to public assembly and provides special protection and procedures that uphold the right of citizens to organize public meetings without prior permission. These special procedures are limited to the submission of a written notice to a governor or the chief of police at least 48 hours before convening a public meeting; if the meeting organizers do not receive a written response they have the right to hold their meeting at the determined time.

3. Prohibiting the holding of public meetings and peaceful demonstrations violates Clause 5 of Article 26 of the Amended Palestinian Basic Law which upholds the rights of Palestinians to participate in political activities as individuals or groups, hold personal meetings without police presence and hold public meetings without breaking the law. Article 2 of the Public Meetings Law states 'Without prejudice to the articles of this law, citizens have the right to convene public meetings, seminars, and peaceful demonstrations and marches freely, and these rights are not subject to any restrictions.'

4. Discrimination among Palestinians is prohibited and the right to free expression is guaranteed by Article 9 of the second section of the Amended Basic Law which states "Palestinians shall be equal before the law and the judiciary, without distinction based upon race, sex, color, religion, political views or disability.' Article 19 of the same law states: 'Freedom of opinion may not be prejudiced. Every person shall have the right to express his opinion and to circulate it orally, in writing or in any form of expression or art, with due consideration to the provisions of the law.'

In light of the above, Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights and Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights assert that banning activities commemorating the death of late President Yasser Arafat and breaking into Ramattan News Agency seriously violate Palestinian law and public freedoms, particularly freedom of expression and opinion and the right to peaceful assembly. Al Mezan and Al-Dameer call upon the Gaza Government to take effective measures that ensure respect for the rule of law and bring those who violate the law to justice, especially law enforcement officers.