Israel's interior ministry has placed travel bans on three senior officials in the northern branch of the Islamic Movement as rights groups accuse the government of cracking down on Palestinian citizens of Israel. 

Along with the movement's leader Sheikh Raed Salah, travel bans were also issued to deputy leader Kamal Khatib and Yousef Awawdeh, head of the movement's public relations office.

Salah and Awawdeh are banned from travelling until January 15, 2016, while Khatib is forbidden from leaving the country until January 18. 

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Omar Khamayseh, a lawyer at the Nazareth-based Arab Association for Human Rights and Salah's legal representative, said the Israeli government has issued him several travel bans in the past. 

"This part of the Israeli government political oppression of Arab activists in an attempt to silence them from speaking out against Israeli policies against Palestinians," Khamayseh told Al Jazeera. 

'Strong action'

Israeli Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, who issued the travel bans, said last month that allowing Salah to travel would be a security threat, according to local media. 

An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians carry Israeli citizenship and live in cities, town and villages across the country.

Palestinian citizens of Israel suffer from more than 50 discriminatory laws that muzzle their political expression and limit their access to state resources, according to the Haifa-based Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights. 

Last month, Salah was sentenced to 11 months in prison for incitement, but that ruling is presently pending while it is appealed in Israel's Supreme Court. 


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The Islamic Movement split into two branches in 1996, when Salah and his followers broke away in opposition to a decision to participate in elections for Israel's parliament, the Knesset.

The northern branch advocates a complete boycott of Israeli electoral politics, and right-wing Israeli leaders have moved to outlaw it in recent years. 

In October, hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the government was "conducting exhaustive and meaningful discussions into the question of outlawing them". 

"There is no question that we will take strong action against them," Netanyahu said. 

Although the Shin Bet, Israel's intelligence service, said last month that there is no sufficient evidence linking the northern branch to illegal activities, Israeli officials have accused them of supporting armed activities.

Crackdown

Israeli authorities have launched a crackdown on Palestinian citizens of Israel since last month, when unrest started to spread throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, according to Adalah Legal Center.

Israeli police arrested at least 205 Palestinian citizens of Israel - including influential activists and minors - during October alone, said Amjad Iraqi, international advocacy coordinator at Adalah. 

Anas Khateeb, 19, was arrested for "incitement to violence and terrorism" for a series of Facebook posts he wrote. Adalah has denied that his statuses incited violence and has called for his release. 


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Dozens of activists were also taken in during "pre-emptive arrests" used by police to prevent them from participating in protests. "There is no legal basis for this," Iraqi told Al Jazeera.

"They even arrested people on charges that don't exist in Israeli law," he said, explaining that "the very demonstrations they were going to were not illegal".

"There has been a huge pattern of the police completely ignoring the law and unfortunately the court allowed them to go forward with it under the excuse that the security situation was tense." 

Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_

Additional reporting by Ali Younes: @Ali_reports

Source: Al Jazeera