Palestinian Authority Unblocks News Websites After Criticisms

The Jerusalem Post reported that the Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered access restored to eight websites that were blocked two weeks ago. In his order to the attorney general, Abbas stated, "Freedom of expression is a right enshrined in the law, therefore, from here forward, the enforcement agencies will be prohibited from shutting down websites."

Last month, Ma'an News Agency revealed that the PA had blocked eight websites since the beginning of the year. Most of the websites were not very popular in Palestine and reported on daily news. However, all the websites are described as being "loyal" to Muhammad Dahlan, a Fatah leader and a critic of Abbas. Criticisms arose immediately of the block. In an op-ed published by The Daily Beast, Hussein Ibish wrote that Palestinians were becoming increasingly concerned that the censorship efforts in the last year were indicative of an authoritarian "police" state. Ibish went on to say:

The introduction of political censorship by the PA cannot be allowed to take root. These decisions must be reversed, and immediately, in the Palestinian national interest, and for the PA’s own good.

The controversy became so divisive that the Communications Minister Mashhour Abu Daqa resigned during the last week of April. Daqa said that he opposed the Palestinian Authority's curbing of freedom of expression, and that the actions on behalf of the PA were bad for the public image of Palestine around the world.

This is the first time that explicitly political reasons have contributed to online censorship in Gaza and the West Bank. Jillian York notes that besides the filtering of sexually explicit websites, the Internet within the Palestinian Authority has been "relatively unfettered" with only one site that has ever been blocked in the West Bank.

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