HRW accused PA of blocking legal rights group for Palestinian detainees

HRW accused PA of blocking legal rights group for Palestinian detainees
Lawyers for Justice says that the Palestinian Authority - which governs parts of the West Bank - denied to renew its registration, after being accused of accepting foreign funds.
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The Palestinian Authority - which is headed by Mahmoud Abbas - has been criticised in the past for its role in suppressing dissent [Getty]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday accused the Palestinian Authority (PA) of obstructing civil rights after it denied the registration of a lawyers association.

Lawyers for Justice - which represents Palestinians detained by the PA - said the renewal of its registration has been denied after it was accused of accepting foreign funding in violation of its legal status.

The legal group was also accused by a PA official of "nonprofit activities" when its renewal was blocked in March, HRW said.

Lawyers for Justice said that accepting foreign funding was not in violation of Palestinian law.

"So long as the PA blocks groups from carrying out work focused on their abuses, their calls to safeguard Palestinian civil society and protect Palestinian rights will continue to ring hollow," Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch said.

Without official registration it could lose access to bank accounts, have its offices closed, and its staff could face arrest, the group's head Mohannad Karaje told Human Rights Watch.

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The move to muzzle Lawyers for Justice reflects a larger trend of the PA "shrinking the space for civil society organisations and further empowering its security services", Karaje said.

The PA did not respond to a request for comment from AFP.

In November 2021, Israel said six Palestinian civil society groups could no longer operate legally in the occupied West Bank after being accused of collaborating with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

But critics say the PA is also putting increased pressure on Palestinian civil society.

Nizar Banat - a leading critic of the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas - died in June 2021 after being dragged from his home in the West Bank by Palestinian security forces.

The PA was heavily criticised for its involvement in the death in police custody of Banat and has been in general slammed for quashing internal dissent in parts of the West Bank under its control.

In December, Banat's family submitted a case against the PA to the International Criminal Court.

Last year hundreds of Palestinian lawyers held a rare street protest against what they described as the PA's "rule by decree", accusing it of curbing Palestinian "rights and freedoms".