Abbas reverses censorship of anti-regime websites

PA is ‘committed to unlimited freedom of the press,’ PM Fayyad says

President Mahmoud Abbas has reversed an order censoring news websites linked to a political rival, according to a report in the Palestinian Ma’an news agency Sunday.

Abbas ordered his attorney general on Saturday to roll back the recent wave of media censorship in the Palestinian Authority, which included blocking websites among other measures.

“From this point forward, the attorney general and the judiciary are prohibited from shutting down or blocking websites, and they are instructed to lift any existing bans,” Abbas’s office said in a statement, according to Ma’an.

In late April, the president ordered the Communications Ministry to block access to a number of Internet sites linked to Mohammed Dahlan, a political rival and former security commander in the Gaza Strip, raising concerns about freedom of expression in the West Bank.

PA Attorney General Ahmad al-Mughni has been tasked with distributing clarifications to West Bank Internet providers within 24 hours from Abbas’s Saturday announcement, informing them they are no longer required to block any website, Ma’an reported.

The crackdown on websites was championed by Abbas in recent months, supposedly in an effort to solidify support for his policies and silence critics. As many as eight news sites were targeted by Abbas’s censorship initiative, and the Palestinian Telecommunications Company (PalTel) were required to block their user’ access to specific web pages.

The blocked websites included Amad, Fatah Voice, Firas Press, In Light Press, Karama Press, Kofia Press, Milad News and Palestine Beituna, all of which criticized the leadership of Abbas, according to the Palestine News Network.

The PA’s minister of communications, Mashour Abu Daqa, announced his resignation on April 26 following the PA’s censorship of the websites, stating that that the decision to limit information availability was “bad for the image of the Palestinian Authority in the modern world.”

Criticism of the measure has been broad, and condemnation has come from both within the Palestinian Authority and from US and UN officials and press freedom groups.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad marked World Press Freedom Day in Ramallah, telling reporters: “As part of our absolute commitment to freedoms in Palestine, we are also committed to unlimited freedom of the press,” the PA-run Wafa news agency reported.

Abu Daqa, the resigned communications minister, said on Saturday after Abbas’s statement was released: “This is common sense… I’m sure that once he had the facts, he made the decision. This gave us a bad name internationally and opened up the Palestinian Authority to a lot of criticism. It was legitimate criticism, by the way.”

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