Over the past four days, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) followed up on the measures taken by the Internal Security Service (ISS) against Dr. Ibrahim Abrash, a lecturer and the former Minister of Culture, over his recently published opinion editorial. PCHR expresses deep concern for Dr. Abrash, and believes that such measures, which include summoning him for questioning, constitute a serious violation of the constitutional right to freedom of opinion and expression. PCHR calls upon the government in Gaza to take the necessary steps to ensure respect for this right and to stop ISS’s interventions that violate the freedom of public.
According to PCHR’s investigation and Dr. Abrash’s testimony, at approximately 10:00 on Thursday, 23 May 2012, Dr. Abrash went to ISS office in the west of Gaza City. Dr. Abrash had been summoned to report at the ISS office on the eveningf Wednesday, 22 May 2013. Dr. Abrash stated that two ISS officers questioned him about his articles oin a humiliating manner. He added that the interrogation focused on an opinion piece he had posted on 07 May 2013.
The article in question is titled, “Gaza Does Not Give Indulgence to Anyone” in which he criticized Sheikh al-Qaradawi’s visit to Gaza. Dr. Abrash also said that the officers who questioned him objected to the article’s content and they considered Sheikh al-Qaradawi to be a sacred person. The officers then asked him to write an apology, but he refused. He was released at approximately 16:00 on the same day, but was instructed to come back on Sunday morning, 26 May 2013. On Thursday evening, Dr. Abrash posted another article in which he said: “I decided not to go back. If the ISS wants me, they can arrest me and I know that they can.”
Dr. Abrash stated that following this, at approximately 16:00 on Sunday, 26 May 2013, two ISS officers arrived at his house in Tal al-Hawa neighborhood in west of Gaza City and asked him to accompany them. Abrash added that the two officers took him to the ISS office. There, he met with a senior ISS officer, who talked about Dr. Abrash’s articles and criticisms. Abrash said that he was allowed to leave about half an hour later.
In this context, PCHR stresses that:
1- The right to freedom of expression and opinion is constitutionally guaranteed under Article 19 of the Palestinian Basic Law, which provides that “Freedom of opinion may not be prejudiced. Every person shall have the right to express his opinion and to circulate it orally, in written or in any form of expression or art, with due consideration to the provisions of the law;”
2- The measures taken by ISS, including summons and interrogations, are in violation of law. Summoning is allowed only by a judicial order, and summoning on the grounds of an opinion piece constitutes a violation to the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and
3- These illegal measures are an unjustified intervention into the right of people to express freely as this right is guaranteed under the Palestinian Basic Law as well as the relevant international legal standards. Such measures impose self-censorship on writers and journalists and are inconsistent with democracy and freedom of expression.
In light of the above, PCHR:
1- Calls upon the government in Gaza to take necessary steps to ensure respect for the freedom of opinion and expression and to stop the ISS’s intervention into public freedoms;
2- Calls upon Palestinian security services to fully comply with the Palestinian Basic Law and other relevant laws and to respect human rights.