JSC’s special report on Cybercrimes law leading media freedoms towards a slow-motion downfall
The journalist support committee in Palestine denounces the increasing violations against journalists and activists by issuing laws and regulations that limit journalists’ rights and movements.
The committee expressed its deep concerns after the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, approved on resolution no. 16, on 26 June 2017, related to cyber-crimes, without the existence of legal sanctions for the absence of modern law that stipulates dissuasive penalties for similar crimes, while working under the Jordanian Penal Code No. 16 of 1960 in the West Bank, and the Egyptian Law in Gaza Strip, which are outdated and do not include any text or punishment for such modern crimes.
The committee called for the immediate cessation of the implementation of this resolution, and to consult it with the civil society organizations, with the aim of amending it in accordance with the Palestinian Basic Law and the international obligations of the State of Palestine in the human rights conventions to which it has acceded, and to provide real protection for the privacy of journalists and activists on social networking sites.
The new law regulates electronic transactions as well as the work of media websites and social networking sites, in terms of imposing penalties on those who violate public conduct or incitement through these sites. The law aims to impose severe penalties on the perpetrators of cyber-crimes in Palestine, For 10 years and a fine of 5,000 JD.
In its bi-annual report for 2017, the Committee noted that the Palestinian violations against journalists amounted to (40) cases of arrests, most of them on the basis of their writings on social networking sites and expressing their views, indicating that the Palestinian security services under the name of the Electronic Crimes Law have closed more than 40 websites.
the journalist support committee (JSC) surveyed the opinions of journalists, lawyers, and academics on the cyber-crimes law. Journalist Khaled Maali stated: “the basis of the legislation of civilized nations is through the Legislative Council, and it is not correct to overlap between the three authorities of any State, or one of the authorities governs above all other”.
Mr. Maali also pointed out that this law infringes freedom of expression massively, pointing out that the social media sites in which individuals express their views are often virtual.
He also added: “Strong nations do not fear the opinions of their constituencies, but encourage them and refute weak opinions with valid arguments, so this law is useless and should be reviewed and repealed."
He indicated that the cyber-crime law provides a legal cover for violations of freedom of expression and privacy committed by the executive organs against journalists and social media activists, which consisted recently of blocking news sites, arrest and summon under the pretext of press reports or publications on social media networks.
Mr. Maali wondered: “is it reasonable to summon or arrest a citizen or an activist simply because of a “Like”? with a legal cover for his arrest. The origin of freedoms to expand with the energies and capabilities of the people and the masses, but in the case of suppression, the situation is declining and the situation deteriorates to the worst.”
The academic in legal affairs from the University of Bir Zeit, Professor Mohammad Khodor, warned from the implementation of the cyber-crime law demanding its immediate abolition. Pointing out that the cyber-crime law was issued without consulting the Supreme Judicial Council in a matter that concerns directly the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the courts and the criminal procedures, which is a clear breach of article 100 of the Basic Law. Stating: “If the executive authority is able individually to organize the work of the courts and the Public Prosecution to amend the procedures and guarantees in accordance with the law, and this includes among many things the distribution of competencies between the two parties and procedures and methods of appeal and review”.
Mr. Khodor asked: “why is the executive authority unable to amend the law of the judicial authority related to the structure of the judiciary and the prosecution without consulting the Supreme Judicial Council”, adding that this law gave competence to the executive authorities to control and violate privacy in search of a criminal act carried out by citizens.
The professor also pointed out that the Public Prosecution continues to insist on initiating investigation, indictment, judgment, and execution, and that the Public Prosecutor's Office personally holds an unnecessary, unjustified and exceptional competence on freedom, which means empowering the prosecution to take legal action against the other opponent in the case, and without guarantees of impartiality, confrontation and public standing in the face of public authority, in contrary to the Basic Law which maintains the presumption of innocence.
Finally, the professor noted that this is not only an infringement of individual rights, freedoms, privacy, and dignity but also of the judiciary and the courts, which gives a wider social and legal to further infringe on the executive authority and its independence. This means that in addition to the media outlets, trade union and social institutions, the judiciary itself is required to repeal this legislation in order to preserve its prestige, dignity, and independence.
An expert in legal, media and human rights issues, Mr. Majid Al-Aarouri, clarified that the existing laws in the Penal Code are sufficient for deterrence cases related to cyber-crime. Pointing out that the cyber-crime law carried broad criminalization content affecting freedom of expression in particular.
Mr. Majid stated: “this law would amount to a graveyard for the concept of freedom in Palestinian society and a cemetery for the protection of privacy, this law does not take into account the minimum protection of rights and freedoms, this law can prosecute anyone accused of promoting a newspaper or who shares a publication of a writer or article on his page under the pretext of promoting, this is an unacceptable concept of criminal conviction”.
The expert expressed his concerns in case the law is ratified and described it as a dangerous development that affects freedoms in general, and prevents people from expressing their views through social media, which is a violation of fundamental human rights.
The expert elaborated that the proposal, which was carried out two days ago, for the sake to prepare a draft amended to the cyber-crime law that ensures that all material affecting public freedoms and privacy is treated, which constitute an acceptable way out of the crisis created by the law, and to work on a law that meets the needs of the community and eliminates any violation of freedom of expression or privacy.
It was suggested, during the workshop that was held in the headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), at the invitation of both PLO and Mada organization, the need to form a committee under the auspices of Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, member of the Executive Committee of the PLO along with a member of the general attorney who participated in the workshop, participation of Al-Fatwa office, the ministry of justice, the Palestinian human rights organizations and legal personnel in aims to prepare the draft and submit it to the President to issue a modified law, And the non-activation of the articles of the current law related to this matter by the Public Prosecution until the Commission finishes its work within a limited period of time.
The expert called on the independent commission, the human rights foundations, the bar association and journalists to react urgently to stop the implementation of this law.
Mr. Al-Aarouri stressed the importance of preserving the cohesion of society and its civil peace and freedoms as a priority that must be sought by all.
Towards a free and professional media
Journalist Support Committee – Palestine
17 July 2017