Ramallah accused of blocking legal rights group to ’empower its security services’

Human Rights Watch says that PA move to deny renewal of registration for Lawyers for Justice proves that ‘their calls to… protect Palestinian rights will continue to ring hollow’

Palestinian lawyers demonstrate in front of the Prime Minister's Office in Ramallah in the West Bank, on July 25, 2022, to reportedly protest the Palestinian president establishing laws by decree which they consider a violation of the independence of the judiciary. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
Illustrative: Palestinian lawyers demonstrate in front of the Prime Minister's Office in Ramallah in the West Bank, on July 25, 2022, to reportedly protest the Palestinian president establishing laws by decree which they consider a violation of the independence of the judiciary. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

Human Rights Watch on Thursday criticized the Palestinian Authority for obstructing civil rights after it denied the registration of a lawyers association.

Lawyers for Justice — which represents Palestinians detained by the PA — said the renewal of its registration has been denied after it was accused of accepting foreign funding in violation of its legal status.

The legal group was also accused by a PA official of “nonprofit activities” when its renewal was blocked in March, HRW said.

Lawyers for Justice said that accepting foreign funding was not in violation of Palestinian law.

“So long as the PA blocks groups from carrying out work focused on their abuses, their calls to safeguard Palestinian civil society and protect Palestinian rights will continue to ring hollow,” said HRW’s Omar Shakir.

Without official registration, it could lose access to bank accounts, have its offices closed, and its staff could face arrest, the group’s head Mohannad Karaje told Human Rights Watch.

Maryam Banat, 67, mother of Palestinian Authority critic Nizar Banat, holds a poster with his picture at a rally protesting his death at the hands of PA security forces, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on July 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

An official from the Palestinian economy ministry told AFP that the organization had been denied registration after refusing to submit its budget and tax files to the ministry.

“The information we have says that this company receives money, even though it is a non-profit company,” he said.

In a statement to AFP, Karaje said the ministry’s claims were “contrary to the truth,” and added that the organization had been subject to “a campaign of harassment and prosecution.”

The move to muzzle Lawyers for Justice reflects a larger trend of the PA “shrinking the space for civil society organizations and further empowering its security services,” Karaje said.

The PA did not respond to a request for comment from AFP.

Nizar Banat — a leading critic of the Palestinian Authority — died in June 2021 after being dragged from his home in the West Bank by Palestinian security forces.

In December, Banat’s family submitted a case against the PA to the International Criminal Court.

Last year, hundreds of Palestinian lawyers held a rare street protest against what they described as the Palestinian Authority’s “rule by decree,” accusing it of curbing Palestinian “rights and freedoms.”

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