Security forces under the Palestinian Authority (PA) arrested at least 21 Palestinians late on Monday, July 5. Those arrested include journalists, university students, activists and lawyers. They also brutally suppressed a sit-in protest and demonstrations in the Palestinian capital Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Monday night, physically assaulting hundreds of protesters and arresting some to quell the wave of protests against the killing of activist Nizar Banat.
Several protesters were reportedly kept in custody awaiting prosecution. The murder of political activist and anti-corruption figure Nizar Banat by PA security forces in June has triggered a wave of protests against the PA authorities, with demands to put an end to the use of violence on peaceful, unarmed civilians and the rampant corruption in PA.
Demonstrations and sit-ins were organized on Monday at the central al-Manara square of Ramallah to protest the Banat’s killing and the subsequent crackdowns over the last two weeks by PA forces. However, soon as the protesters arrived, the police started ordering them to leave the protest site. They started rounding up and arresting the protesters. The PA forces used pepper spray against the protesters and beat them with batons.
Reports suggest that among the 21 arrested, 10 were women. The security forces did not spare the elderly or former prisoners who were present at the protest site, according to lawyer Dana Farraj. Eyewitnesses stated that at least five protesters were struck unconscious and some had to be taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries. A PA police spokesperson said that the crackdown was due to the fact that the protesters had not obtained prior permission for staging the protests.
The detained people were taken to the police detention center, where their family members staged another sit-in protest to demand their release.
Some of the detainees who were later released as well as human rights activists claimed that many of those arrested were tortured and beaten by the PA forces while in detention. Islam Alfayez, an activist and a candidate in the now postponed Palestinian elections, reported witnessing police beating up detainees with clubs. He added that he saw many of them bleeding as a result of the beatings. The director of the human rights organization Al-Haq, Shawan Jabarin, who also took part in the sit-in, concluded that authorities had taken “a decision at a high level to suppress the protesters in front of the police station.” As per some reports, anonymous PA security sources also confirmed the same. Middle East Eye quoted a source as saying that a high level decision was taken to prevent protests from taking place, especially in Ramallah, which is the headquarters of the PA.
Condemning these actions, legal aid group Lawyers for Justice said in a statement that the “suppression and detention of dozens of activists and citizens over their advocacy for human rights is unprecedented and is meant to abridge the freedom of speech.” PA prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh ordered the release of all detainees, according to spokesperson Ibrahim Milhem. However, president Mahmoud Abbas has declared the renewal of a state of emergency purportedly to curb the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, ordinary Palestinians, activists and government critics have resolved to continue the protests to demand justice for Banat and to put pressure on the PA to respect their basic human rights and civil and political freedoms.