For the fifth consecutive day, thousands of Palestinians took part in protests across the occupied West Bank against the Palestinian Authority (PA), multiple news sources reported on Monday, June 28. The protests were sparked by the death of political activist Nizar Banat, an anti-corruption figure and a critic of the PA. He died in custody on June 24 after being picked up in a raid at his home by the PA security forces.
Protests against Banat’s death were met with brutality and violence by Palestinian police officers in plain clothes and riot police. They used tear gas, stun grenades, metal batons, rocks and physical force against the protesters while trying to disperse them. Protests were also reported from Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, and several smaller towns like al-Bireh. According to local medical sources, at least 20 people were injured in the police crackdown against the protesters during the five days.
The protesters have demanded the resignation of president Mahmoud Abbas, holding him responsible for Banat’s death and for the oppressive rule of the PA government. Protesters were seen waving the Palestinian flag and carrying portraits of Banat, raising slogans like “the people want to overthrow the regime”, “step down, Abbas!” and “your blood won’t be in vain”. They also demanded that the government initiate an independent and impartial investigation into Banat’s death and bring those responsible to justice.
Anger among protesters escalated in the last couple of days after Banat’s autopsy report revealed that the time between his arrest and death was less than an hour and that he had suffered multiple fractures. He had injury marks and bruises on his head, chest, neck, legs and hands, and internal bleeding from his lungs. This indicated that he was brutally beaten and tortured before his death.
Later, counter-rallies were organized by supporters of the PA, which saw the participants play patriotic songs on loudspeakers and wave flags of Abbas’ ruling Fatah party.
The security forces and riot police also reportedly threatened and manhandled journalists and human rights workers who were doing their work. As per reports, they confiscated journalists’ phones and professional equipment, damaged cameras, and also injured several journalists. Human rights workers who were present at the protest sites to observe and monitor the situation were attacked and forced out of the area and had their phones confiscated. According to statistics obtained by press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, at least 12 Palestinian journalists, including five women, were assaulted by the riot police and security forces during the protests over the weekend. One journalist was summoned by PA’s General Intelligence Service for interrogation.
Later, journalists affiliated with the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate assembled outside the UN office in Ramallah and demanded that the international body intervene to protect them and guarantee press freedoms in Palestine. The journalists gave a letter urging the UN to “take necessary and immediate measures” to protect media freedom. In a statement, they demanded PA prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh to fire the police chief for the violent attacks on journalists and protesters.
The Syndicate has also decided to issue a call to all local and international news media to boycott the PA presidency and government press briefings. Several Palestinian journalists cut their press cards in protest. Several human rights organizations and the UN have denounced the PA’s violent crackdown on protesters and journalists, expressing shock at the use of force against protesters, journalists and rights workers. They called upon the PA to ensure freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, and the press. The UN said it has raised these concerns with the government authorities through official channels in direct meetings.