The vast majority of Palestinians are worried about the Palestinian Authority’s recent crackdown on freedom of speech, a poll published on Tuesday showed.
In July, PA President Mahmoud Abbas clamped down on social media and news websites — the main outlets for debate and dissent in the West Bank — with a vaguely worded decree that critics say allows his government to jail anyone on charges of harming “national unity” or the “social fabric.”
Rights activists have said the edict, issued without prior public debate, is perhaps the most significant step yet by Abbas’s government to restrict freedom of expression in the areas it administers.
According to the poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, in light of an increase in the detention of journalists and activists in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, 80 percent of those surveyed said they are worried about the future of liberties in the Palestinian territories.
The level of worry was higher in the PA-ruled West Bank, at 85%, than in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, where it is 71%.
“This prevailing perception seems to be driven by the recent increase in the incidents in which journalists and activists have been arrested, and by the recently announced presidential decree enacting a cybercrime law,” the authors of the poll wrote.
The PA faced harsh pushback after its security forces arrested the prominent Palestinian activist Issa Amro, who largely works against the Israeli presence in the West Bank city of Hebron.
In a Facebook post earlier this month, Amro criticized the detention of a local journalist who had called for Abbas’s resignation.
Amro’s attorney, Farid Atrash, said it was “shameful” that his client was arrested for exercising his right of free expression.
Amro was released on bail a week after his arrest.
The poll said 81% of Palestinians surveyed believe that the PA does not have the right to arrest activists such as Amro just because they criticize the behavior of the PA, while 14% believe the PA has the right to arrest its critics.
Half (50%) of the Palestinian public views the PA as a “burden,” the poll said, and 44% see it as an “asset.”
Abbas’s popularity among Palestinians continues to plummet, the poll showed, with 67% of those surveyed saying they want him to resign — 60% of those in the West Bank and 80% in the Gaza Strip. The dip in Abbas’s popularity in Gaza, the poll’s authors said, was likely due to the series of punitive measures taken against the Strip to force Hamas to cede power, including cutting payments for electricity and salaries to government workers.
If presidential elections were held today between Abbas, jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Abbas would receive 20%, Barghouti 43%, and Haniyeh 33%, according to the poll.
The survey interviewed 1,270 adults face to face in 127 randomly selected locations. The margin of error is 3%.
AP contributed to this report.