Global Voices

Angered by Online Censorship, Palestinians Say #NoToBlocking

Blocked websites are known for their criticism of the Palestinian Authority and its president Mahmoud Abbas.

One of the campaign's posters “#NoToBlocking”. Source: Twitter.

Angered by the Palestinian Authority's (PA) latest blocking of news websites belonging to rival political groups, Palestinian activists and journalists launched Monday evening a social media campaign to protest against the PA's censorship and crackdown on free speech, and what they deem as increasingly authoritarian policies.

The campaign called on the public to use the Arabic hashtag (), which translates to ‘no to blocking’, and demanded the PA's Attorney General to issue a public statement stating the reasons behind his decision.

An invitation to tweet: To reject the silencing of voices, to prevent the suppression of freedoms, and to protest the decision to block websites, join us on Monday at 10:30pm using the hashtag #NoToBlocking

On 12 June, the Palestinian Attorney General ordered Palestinian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the West Bank to block a number of websites that are not in line with the PA's political orientation. Initially, 11 websites affiliated with ex-Fatah leader Mahmoud Dahlan and Fatah's political rival, Hamas were blocked. An official at the Attorney General's office said the sites were blocked for violating “rules of publication.”

It remains unclear precisely which “rules” they were referring to, but the 1995 Press and Publication Law includes several vague and broad restrictions on freedom of expression.

On June 20, local observers reported that the number of blocked websites rose to 22. According to Palestinian news site Arab48, the Attorney General originally submitted a list of 40 websites and pages for these companies to block, including Facebook pages of multiple Palestinian social media influencers. This has not been confirmed or denied by the PA or local ISPs. As of June 21, no Facebook pages on the list had been blocked.

Activists were particularly angered by the lack of transparency on the reasons behind this blocking decision.

Journalist and blogger Marah Elwadia tweeted:

The PA blocks more than 22 websites without explanation and the list is growing, [PA] suppresses media and exercises dictatorship against it and its public #NoToBlocking

Other netizens remain skeptical as to the effectiveness of such blocking measures in this “social media age”.

They try to silence free platforms by all means, but the truth is above and beyond [their efforts], and the cowards cannot silence it #NoToBlocking

In the age of social media, the PA insists on making scandals and blocks websites. They are really pathetic #NoToBlocking

User Yahya Hilles had the following message for the PA and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. The militant group has been staging its own crackdown on journalists and activists.

To the government of Ramallah #NoToBlocking and to the government of Gaza #NoArrests, we will not accept suppressing freedoms and silencing voices (Ramallah, Gaza)

Some have called for boycotting the ISPs who are seen as complicit in the PA's violation:

This is my last subscription with Hadara [an IPS in the West Bank] #NoToBlocking

Aljazeera journalist Suhaib Alassa slammed the PA for its double-standards:

How can the Palestinian Authority demand liberation from Israeli suppression, while human rights organizations are demanding it to respect Palestinians’ rights

Palestinian activists said they will continue their campaign until the Attorney General cancels his directive and unblocks the sites. In the meantime, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor took the issue to the 35th session of the UN Human Rights Council and commented in a statement:

“The PA has closed and censored various online and print media outlets, and it systematically cuts the salaries of parliament deputies speaking loudly of their opposition.”

Originally published in Global Voices.

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