Lawyer charged with ‘defaming’ Palestinian Authority as crackdown on activists continues

Muhanad Karajah, a prominent Palestinian lawyer, was questioned on Wednesday by the Palestinian attorney general in Ramallah on charges of provoking sectarian conflicts, participating in an illegal meeting and defaming the Palestinian Authority.

The move is seen as a first step towards filing a charge sheet against Karajah.

Karajah, an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority, heads a group called Lawyers for Justice, which monitors and documents human rights violations in the West Bank.

For the past five months, Karajah and his group have been campaigning on social media platforms protesting the death of anti-corruption activist Nizar Banat, who was beaten to death by Palestinian Authority security agents in Hebron in last june.

Since then, the group has issued several statements condemning the murder of Banat and demanding that the perpetrators, who belong to the Palestinian Authority security forces, be brought to justice.

Palestinian security agents stand guard during a trial of security agents (not seen) for the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of President Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah, West Bank, on September 14, 2021 (credit: REUTERS / ALI SAWAFTA).

Fourteen Palestinian security officers are currently on trial before a Palestinian Authority military court in Ramallah for their role in the murder of Banat, famous for posting videos on Facebook in which he accused Palestinian leaders and officials of financial corruption and embezzlement and administrative.

Earlier this week, Banat’s family announced that they have decided to withdraw their lawyer from court hearings because they have no confidence in the process. The family also accused the defendants’ attorney of verbally abusing their attorney.

The assassination of Banat, whom some Palestinians describe as the “Khashoggi of Palestine”, sparked protests from many Palestinians, including human rights organizations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Palestinian political activists who took to the streets of Ramallah to demand justice for Banat were beaten or arrested by Fatah thugs and Palestinian Authority security forces.

Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist, dissident and columnist who was assassinated by Saudi agents at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2018.

After questioning on Wednesday, Karajah said he was questioned about his legal and human rights work. “All Palestinian lawyers and human rights activists are under attack,” he added. “Lawyers For Justice is not the only group targeted by Palestinian security agencies. This campaign coincides with the Israeli offensive against Palestinian NGOs ”.

Karajah said he was told that the Palestinian Authority General Intelligence Service filed a complaint against him and Lawyers for Justice due to a Facebook post. The post accused Palestinian Authority security forces of detaining a Palestinian activist in violation of the law.

“As a lawyer and director of a human rights group, I am appalled at the timing of these charges,” Karajah told reporters. “The General Intelligence Service is harassing lawyers and human rights activists who are documenting cases of Palestinian political detainees. [targeted by the Palestinian Authority]. Our group seeks justice and an end to human rights violations ”.

Karajah said that despite the complaint filed by the General Intelligence Service, he will continue to seek justice for Banat and denounce human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority security forces.

Palestinian political and human rights activists expressed their solidarity with Karajah and accused the leaders of the Palestinian Authority of working to intimidate and silence its critics.

“There is no freedom of speech under the Palestinian Authority,” said political activist Ayman Hilmi. “Those who criticize the Palestinian Authority are killed like Banat or prosecuted and intimidated like Karajah.”

Dozens of political activists have been detained or summoned by Palestinian Authority security forces for questioning since Banat’s assassination. At least 16 have been officially accused of fomenting sectarian strikes and insulting senior Palestinian officials.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Lawyers for Justice accused the Palestinian Authority of cracking down on public freedoms, especially freedom of expression.

“These actions reflect the reality of what is happening on the street,” the group said. “There are serious arrests and abuses.”

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