Reporters Without Borders is relieved that President Mahmoud Abbas pardoned the journalist Mamdouh Hamamreh shortly after an appeal court in the West Bank city of Bethlehem yesterday sentenced him to a year in prison on a charge of insulting Abbas and publishing “hate-filled” content online.
The Bethlehem correspondent of the pro-Hamas Palestinian satellite TV station Al-Quds, Hamamreh was arrested after yesterday’s ruling and is still being held in a Bethlehem police station. A relative told Reporters Without Borders he is expected to be released on 31 March on completion of various formalities.
“We welcome this pardon but the fact remains that it depended on the president’s will,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A Palestinian citizen can still be jailed for insulting President Abbas. We call for reform of the law so that news providers and ordinary citizens can no longer be sentenced to imprisonment on charges of this kind.”
Intelligence officials arrested Hamamreh on 19 October, a few days after an Abbas photo was posted with a comment on his personal Facebook page, prompting a complaint (No. 128/2012) from the public prosecutor’s office.
After 53 days in Bethlehem prison, he was released pending trial. When tried in December, he was given a one-year suspended sentence, which was widely criticized by Palestinian journalists. Protest sit-ins were staged yesterday in Ramallah and Gaza in reaction to the appeal court’s decision to impose an actual jail sentence, rather than a suspended one.