Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas won’t be collecting any ‘likes’ for his recent crackdown against social media and news websites. Those who say the wrong thing, defined vaguely as ‘endangering the safety of the state’ or ‘harming national unity’ may now receive jail terms up to life in prison.
Without social media, Palestinians would be unable to get their stories out to the world. As one example, Palestine Informer, offers a rare, uncensored glimpse into life as-it-is experienced by ordinary Palestinians. No longer.
Abbas may have believed he could decree a two-for-one winning strategy with this new Cyber-Crime decree.
First, the President criminalized fully-justified criticism of his regime by rivals and, notably, Mohammed Dahlan. Second, he placed intense pressure on Hamas for their recent arrest of a Palestinian television reporter, Fuad Jaradeh. No doubt, Hamas did this to humiliate Abbas. It worked and then some.
The new law has already become a public relations disaster. Ammar Dweik, head of the PA’s own Independent Commission for Human Rights, told Ynet news that the law is ‘one of the worst’ issued in PA history. That is quite an achievement! Even normally loyal or, at least, cowed Palestinian journalists are pushing back. As one wrote, “what is laughable is that this law carried penalties that are tougher than those imposed on thieves and sex offenders.” Let’s just say we won’t count this as a ‘like’ for the law.
Oh, and speaking of liking things, anyone who merely promotes content that Abbas deems offensive by ‘liking’ and sharing it with friends can also be prosecuted and jailed alongside the author. As the PA prosecutor explained, “you cannot accuse the president …. of treason or make fun of him in an image, or something like that.” Surely, that helps clarify things, no?
President Abbas doesn’t like social media and the Internet. Everyone gets that. Even so, the law seems unusually bizarre, unless Abbas has decided that his own political survival now hinges on naked suppression of free speech. If so, the President may soon discover that social media’s dislike of his crude campaign of censorship sweeps away his 20th century regime, led by otherwise conservative 21st century Palestinians.