Occupied Palestinian Territory – The Palestinian Authority must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Tarek al-Sarkaji and cease the arbitrary prosecution of individuals, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement.
Without prior summons or presenting a warrant, members of the Palestinian Preventive Security detained al-Sarkaji at his home west of Nablus Governorate in the northern West Bank. The security force arrived at the journalist’s home at around 10:45 pm on Sunday, 24 September, confiscated his phone, and took him to a security centre without informing him of the reason for his arrest or taking his poor health into account.
Al-Sarkaji, who works as a freelance photographer and editor for local news organisations, suffers from several diseases, as well as severe back pain due to an accident which occurred hours before his arrest. “The first thing the security guards inquired about was…Tarik’s phone,” al-Sarkaji’s wife Somaya Jawabra told Euro-Med Monitor. “He told them it contained private content before handing it over to them, but they snatched it from his hands before he could finish the sentence and did not respect the privacy of the content.”
The chronic diseases al-Sarkaji lives with, said Jawabra, include high blood pressure, diabetes, and gout. “The security guards wanted to be done quickly; I had barely handed him his medication when he was whisked away to the security centre,” she explained to the Euro-Med Monitor team. “The next day, he was brought before the public prosecutor, who decided to extend his detention for 48 hours.
“I was able to meet with him for a very brief period to give him the remainder of his medications and some water, and he told me that he had not been given food or water from the time he was arrested until he was brought before the public prosecutor [nearly 14 hours later],” she added.
According to Jawabra, the lawyer informed her that al-Sarkaji’s detention had been extended for “possession of an unlicensed firearm” and that he would be tried on Wednesday, 27 September. “We hope the court will release him, because he is in poor health and we are afraid something might happen to him,” Jawabra stated.
The Palestinian Authority’s security services have intensified their arbitrary detention campaign against journalists, opponents, and opinion leaders. According to Lawyers for Justice, over 730 arrests on purely political grounds or under pretexts related to the right to freedom of opinion and expression have been recorded since the beginning of this year, including arrests of political activists and university students.
Most arrests are made on vague and unfair charges such as inciting sectarian strife, slandering the Authority, collecting and receiving money from non-legitimate actors, and/or possessing an unlicensed firearm. In some cases, security forces refuse or delay the implementation of judicial decisions to release people who have been detained without legal grounds or justification.
The Palestinian security services’ behaviour contradicts the Palestinian Authority’s relevant local and international obligations, as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees freedom of opinion and expression and prohibits restricting freedoms.
Furthermore, Article 11 of the Basic Law of the Palestinian National Authority states, “Personal freedom is a natural right, shall be guaranteed and may not be violated. It is unlawful to arrest, search, imprison, restrict the freedom, or prevent the movement of any person, except by judicial order in accordance with the provisions of the law.” Individuals being arbitrarily detained and subjected to ill-treatment runs counter to the Authority’s stated goal of strengthening justice and the rule of law.
The Palestinian Authority approved positive amendments to legal provisions related to the criminalisation of torture as per its obligations under the Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol, which it ratified in 2014 and 2017, respectively. However, the security services continue to engage in practices prohibited under the international treaty.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor urges the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, must visit the Occupied Palestinian Territory, compile a report on the illegal practices of the security services, and submit it to the Human Rights Council as part of a pressure campaign on local authorities to stop their violations of human rights.
Euro-Med Monitor also calls on the Palestinian Authority to end all forms of persecution and targeting of journalists, opponents, and opinion leaders, establish oversight mechanisms to govern bodies that carry out arrests, ensure that law enforcement agencies adhere to laws and directives, and respect and immediately implement the decisions of judicial authorities, including detainee-release orders.