Palestinian authorities accused of rights abuses and torture

Human Rights Watch criticises Palestinian Authority and Hamas for crushing dissent

Members of Hamas security forces stand guard  as seized drugs seized are burnt in Gaza City on Monday. Photograph:  Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Members of Hamas security forces stand guard as seized drugs seized are burnt in Gaza City on Monday. Photograph: Mohammed Salem/Reuters

 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned the “systematic arbitrary arrests and torture” carried out by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, in order to silence political opponents.

The New York-based watchdog issued its report, Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent, following a two-year investigation that included interviews with nearly 150 people, many of them ex-detainees. It accuses the rival Palestinian entities of using “machineries of repression” to stifle criticism.

The findings of the report were rejected by both the PA and Hamas as inaccurate and “biased”.

Reports of abuses by the authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza are common but Tuesday’s report marks the most comprehensive study to date and included photographic evidence, medical reports and court documents.

“The PA and Hamas use detention to punish critics and deter them and others from further activism,” the report states. “In detention, security forces routinely taunt, threaten, beat, and force detainees into painful stress positions for hours at a time.”

Since Hamas seized control of Gaza from the PA in 2006 and the failure of national unity efforts, the PA-Hamas feud has deepened, the report says, leading each faction to target the other’s activists, sometimes even more than alleged Israeli “collaborators”.

Detaining critics

The rights group also finds that both Hamas and the PA regularly use expansive interpretations of broad laws that criminalise insulting “higher authorities”, or inciting “sectarian strife”, or “harming the revolutionary unity”, in order to detain critics for days or weeks, “only to release most of them without trial, but often leaving charges outstanding”.

“Palestinian authorities have gained only limited power in the West Bank and Gaza, but where they have autonomy, they have developed parallel police states,” said Tom Porteous, deputy programme director at Human Rights Watch. “Calls by Palestinian officials to safeguard Palestinian rights ring hollow as they crush dissent.”

Both Palestinian authorities arrested individuals for their political activism on university campuses, for taking part in demonstrations and for activity on social media, the report says.

“The fact that Israel systematically violates Palestinians’ most basic rights is no reason to remain silent in the face of the systematic repression of dissent and the torture Palestinian security forces are perpetrating,” added Shawan Jabarin, executive director of the Palestinian human rights organisation al-Haq and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee.

HRW demanded that the Palestinian governments hold those responsible to account and also called on international donors to suspend aid to the agencies implicated in the alleged abuses until action is taken.

Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, denied any allegation of systematic torture and said authorities investigate claims and punish perpetrators.

In Gaza, Hamas denied arresting critics or opponents on political grounds. Faraj al-Ghoul, a Hamas lawmaker, said the report was “unfair”, and that HRW was welcome to inspect the group’s prisons.