Press freedom watchdog the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) denounced on Sunday the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) recent decision to block 11 Palestinian news websites -- all allegedly affiliated with either the Hamas movement or Muhammad Dahlan, a political rival of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas -- in the occupied West Bank.
Among the websites blocked on Thursday were the Palestinian Information Center and the Shehab News Agency -- affiliated with Hamas -- as well as the Voice of Fatah and Amad, known to be close to Dahlan.
Hassan Asfour, an employee at Amad, was quoted by MADA as saying that the website had been blocked in the West Bank “with no prior alert and no clear reasons or justifications.”
Meanwhile, Shehab News Agency employee Muaz Suleiman al-Umour told MADA that PA Attorney General Ahmad Barak, who issued the directive against the 11 publications, had been hanging up on Shehab employees who contacted him to ask about the motives behind his ruling.
“This decision constitutes a serious violation of freedom of the press and expression,” MADA said in a statement, as it called “for the repeal of such measures and practices, which in this day and age of technological developments (are) something of the past.”
A senior official from the PA denied to the agency on Thursday that the websites were targeted for their political affiliations, saying instead that they had been blocked due to a number of pending cases against them for reporting false information and being “unethical” -- charges which the official said included publishing “false news” and "slander."
Meanwhile, Hamas official Shaker Amara said in a statement published on the movement’s site on Sunday that the decision was “a form of political oppression” so the PA could control the version of events being transmitted to Palestinians.
The Fatah-led PA has been under fire from several political opposition parties, particularly Hamas, for online censorship, security coordination with Israel, and campaigns of politically motivated arrests.
However, Hamas has also been accused of silencing dissident voices in the Gaza Strip, where a number of Palestinian journalists have recently been detained.