Palestinian authorities released several people on Monday, August 23, a day after arresting them for participating in protests against the killing of Palestinian political activist Nizar Banat. As many as 24 people had been arrested in Ramallah on Sunday. The security forces tried to stop protests from taking place on Saturday as well, claiming that no permission had been obtained.
The protest was being held to demand an impartial investigation into the killing of Banat and severe punishment for the perpetrators. They have accused the Fatah-led PA headed by Mahmoud Abbas of trying to silence political opposition in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In recent months, the PA has increased repression against critics through various methods. It has banned “unauthorized” protests, carried out mass arrests and cracked down on independent journalists, activists, and opposition figures.
Among those arrested and detained on Sunday were several prominent Palestinians, including writer and poet Zakariyya Muhammad; architect-activist Khaldoun Bishara; Islamic Jihad leader Ahmad Naser; astrophysicist and NASA researcher Imad Barghouthi; filmmaker Mohammed al-Attar; journalist Omar Nazzal; activist Fadi Quran, and political prisoners Salem Qatash and Maher al-Akhras.
Akhras was recently in the news for staging a 103-day hunger strike against his illegal detention by Israel. The PA forces reportedly tried to arrest many others during the protests. Several women activists and protesters at the protest site at al-Manara square in central Ramallah formed a shield to prevent the arrest of others. Later, family members of the detainees staged a protest in front of the PA headquarters and called for their immediate release.
Akhras, following his release on Monday, said that the PA policemen accused the arrested of being “spies” and threatened to “get rid of them all.” Due to the violence by PA forces against the protesters, he was subsequently also taken to hospital to receive medical treatment.
Imad Barghouthi reported that the detainees were kept in harsh conditions and that he was accused of insulting president Abbas and physically assaulting the policemen. However, he pointed out that he never actually took part in the protests, as they were arrested before the protests began.
Nizar Banat was killed by PA security forces on June 24 in a violent raid at his home. 25 police and intelligence officers stormed into Banat’s house and physically assaulted him. He was stripped naked and taken away in a military vehicle, following which the authorities announced that he had died due to a sudden deterioration in his condition. His family and other activists allege that he was beaten in PA’s custody and died as a cause. Banat was a well-known anti-PA and anti-corruption activist. He was outspoken about the PA’s corrupt practices and its close relation with Israel. He had been targeted and arrested several times before by the PA authorities.
His killing sparked a round of protests against the PA and their role in repressing the Palestinian liberation movement and collaborating with Israel.