File picture: Independent Media

Johannesburg - A prominent Palestinian activist, Issa Amro, has been arrested by the Palestinian Preventive Security Forces.

His Monday arrest followed a Facebook post he made criticising the Palestinian security forces for arresting a Palestinian journalist, Ayman Qawasmeh, who had called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resign.

According to Amro's brother, Ahmed, on Sunday evening members of the Palestinian security force came to Issa's home, but he wasn't there.

One of the officers called him on the phone and said, "Come have coffee with us”, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Tuesday.

“On Monday morning, Amro went to the security force's headquarters in Hebron, in the southern Israeli-occupied West Bank, but never returned.”

Family friends serving in the Preventive Security force said the plan was to transfer Amro to a Palestinian jail in Jericho.

Qawasmeh, the chairperson of the board of Minbaf Al Hurriya radio - which the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) shut down on the grounds of alleged incitement against Israel – was arrested on Sunday.

Palestinian websites say he was arrested on the personal orders of Abbas, following a Facebook post demanding the resignations of both Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah "because they could not protect what he called Palestinian institutions in the heart of Hebron."

"Yes to freedom of opinion and expression,” wrote Amro in his post slamming Qawasmeh's arrest.

"We are living in a quasi-state, and it must respect the freedom of opinion and expression, that's what its international commitments require. It must defend freedom of opinion and expression."

Amro, an engineer by profession, has been an active member of the PA-affiliated Fatah movement.

However, due to the PA’s conduct and its close collaboration with Israel, he has grown increasingly critical of the western-backed organisation which has nominal control over the West Bank.

Amro is also facing trial before an Israeli military court for his popular campaign to remove the IDF and Israeli settlers from Hebron.

The military indictment includes 18 alleged violations from before 2013, including verbal confrontations with soldiers, spitting at an Israeli settler, and pushing the chief security officer from the nearby Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba.

The Palestinian activist has close ties with both local and foreign supporters of a nonviolent struggle against Israel, who are closely following his trial at the Israeli military court.

But the PA’s arrest of Amro further highlights the repressive measures being used by the Palestinian authorities in targeting political dissenters and critics.

One of these moves included recently passing a new far-reaching law that effectively criminalises “any form of digital dissent.”

The decree, issued by Abbas on June 24, has been described by rights groups as “draconian” and “the worst law in the PA’s history,” for imposing jail time, hard labour, and fines for creating, publishing, and sharing information deemed dangerous by the PA.
 
It has also been slammed for using quasi-legitimate restrictions on hacking and internet fraud as legal camouflage for serious curtailments of privacy and freedom of expression.
 
The law mandates that “any person who has abused any information technology” can face imprisonment, fines, or both.  
 
If the alleged offence affects government data, a minimum sentence of five years of hard labour and a minimum fine of 5 000 Jordanian dinars (about R91 000) is called for.
 
The most troubling aspects of the law, however, is its vague definitions of what constitutes a punishable offence, its extension of punishment to any individual who assists or agrees with what the decree considers a felony, and the clear attacks on dissenters, journalists, and leakers.