Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned the “systematic arbitrary arrests and torture” carried out by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.
In a report published on Tuesday, the international rights group demanded the Palestinian governments hold those responsible to account and also called on donors to the Palestinian authorities to suspend aid to the agencies implicated in abuses until action is taken.
The findings of the report were rejected by the PA and Hamas as inaccurate and “biased”.
Titled, Two Authorities, One Way, Zero Dissent: Arbitrary Arrest and Torture under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the 149-page document evaluated “patterns of arrest and detention conditions” in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The report is the result of a two-year investigation of 86 cases and interviews with 147 people who were mostly ex-detainees, family members, lawyers and NGO officials.
“The PA and Hamas use detention to punish critics and deter them and others from further activism,” the report stated. “In detention, security forces routinely taunt, threaten, beat, and force detainees into painful stress positions for hours at a time.”
The rights group also found that Palestinian authorities often use expansive interpretations of broad laws that criminalise insulting “higher authorities”, or “inciting “sectarian strife”, or “harming the revolutionary unity”, in order to detain critics for days or weeks, “only to release most of them without referring them to trial, but often leaving charges outstanding”.
Both Palestinian authorities arrested individuals for their political activism on university campuses, taking part in demonstrations and for activity on social media, the report said.
The PA in the West Bank operates under an invasive Israeli military occupation while Hamas-controlled Gaza has been under a joint Israeli-Egyptian military and economic blockade since 2007.
Hamas vs Fatah: Mutual arrests
The report said the Fatah-controlled PA in Ramallah often arrests activists who are politically affiliated with Hamas in the West Bank, while Hamas arrests Fatah activists in Gaza.
In one case, the PA arrested Osama al-Nabrisi at least 15 times after he finished serving a 12-year prison sentence in an Israeli prison in 2014. On one occasion, he was detained just two days after his release, due his association with Hamas activists while in Israeli prison.
In another case, Hamas-controlled police in Gaza arrested the former PA preventive security officer Abdel Basset Amoom in 2017, for his involvement in a protest about electricity cuts.
The report detailed several cases of independent Palestinian journalists and political activists who were arrested, detained and subjected to abuses without proper arrest warrants for several days.
In some of the cases, the courts acquitted the individuals deeming their arrests “illegal”, while others who were arrested over social media posts were ordered to pay huge fines after making a plea deal with prosecutors.
Palestinian Authority response
Brigadier General Adnan Dameri, the spokesman for the PA security forces in the West Bank, told Al Jazeera that the HRW report is full of erroneous information and highly biased.
The state of Palestine has signed all international laws and conventions that ban human rights abuses and torture and is committed to enforce them
“No one from the HRW ever contacted us to get accurate information from us on the incidents they allegedly said constitute human rights violations,” he said.
“The state of Palestine has signed all international laws and conventions that ban human rights abuses and torture and is committed to enforce them,” he added.
HRW said that it had met the PA intelligence services in Ramallah and that it was unable to meet Hamas representatives in Gaza after Israel denied its official permits.
Dameri acknowledged that incidents of human rights abuses may have taken place in PA facilities, but those cases were not “systematic” nor sanctioned by the government.
“Abuses did take place, but they were committed by individual officers acting on their own, not based on government policy,” he said.
“We are not Switzerland, but we are doing everything we can to uphold our laws and prevent human rights violations should they take place by individual officers,” he said
“People criticise the government here all the time. We don’t arrest people for mere criticism unless a crime is committed such as hate speech and there must be an arrest warrant for that,” he added.
Eyad al-Bozom, the spokesman for the Hamas Palestinian Ministry of Interior and Security Forces in Gaza, told Al Jazeera that he received an inquiry from HRW in March asking for details about alleged human rights abuses committed by Hamas’s police organization.
He told Al Jazeera that he sent HRW a detailed response explaining all the cases they inquired about, but the group never considered them when they issued their report.
All of our law enforcement facilities have been and still are open to inspections by Palestinian and international human rights organizations
He said he also sent HRW a new memorandum recently, demanding an explanation from the organisation over allegations of abuses committed by the police in Gaza.
“We never got a response or any communication from them,” he said.
Al-Bozom stressed that the Gaza police force is committed to upholding Palestinian laws that ban human rights abuses and torture.
“All of our law enforcement facilities have been and still are open to inspection to Palestinian and international human rights organizations,” he said.
Al-Bozom also acknowledged that human rights abuses were committed by individual officers acting on their own, but never on government orders.
He said from 2014 to 2016, the Gaza police received 314 complaints of human rights violations committed by individual police officers, which were investigated fully.
He said 90 cases were proven while 224 were not. The offending officers were either fired or punished according to police regulations, he added.
“People criticise the government or Hamas here all the time, we don’t arrest people for that,” he said
A report issued by the Ramallah-based Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), documented a total of 23 cases of human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza during the month of September.
Of those cases, 12 were documented in the West Bank and involved PA security forces, while 11 cases were recorded in Gaza, involving Hamas-controlled police forces.
Hani al-Masri, a Ramallah-based political analyst, said human rights violations and illegal arrests were common.
Al-Masri told Al Jazeera that Hamas and the PA often detain each other’s operatives, as well as independent journalists and citizens.
He said both Palestinian groups govern the areas under their control with an “authoritarian bent”.
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