Abbas lifts ban on critical websites
Published yesterday (updated) 05/05/2012 23:37
By George Hale and Wajdi al-Jafari
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas issued formal instructions
Saturday to reverse an order censoring news websites linked to one of his
"From this point forward, the attorney general and the judiciary are
prohibited from shutting down or blocking websites, and they are instructed
to lift any existing bans," Abbas wrote in an executive order.
"Freedom of expression and opinion are natural rights guaranteed in the
(Palestinian) Basic Law," Abbas said, urging journalists to nevertheless
maintain their objectivity.
The order was Abbas' first public acknowledgment of the controversy that
erupted after Ma'an reported that attorney general Ahmad al-Mughni was
forcing private Internet companies to block access to websites loyal to
Muhammad Dahlan. Abbas and the former Fatah leader have feuded for years.
The attorney general is to begin distributing clarifications to West Bank
Internet service providers within 24 hours, informing them they are no
longer required to block any websites, he said Saturday. Abbas briefed him
in a meeting shortly before announcing the instructions, he said.
When first approached by Ma'an early this year, Al-Mughni denied involvement
in the blocking. He later conceded his role after the communications
minister criticized him on public radio and resigned.
The ex-minister, Mashour Abu Daka, alleges that al-Mughni authorized the
initiative despite serious concerns it was illegal. He said al-Mughni "made
up his own laws" to justify it.
On Saturday, the attorney general defended the blocking and his role in it.
The purpose was to "maintain the social fabric," he told Ma'an, warning that
"Even though the ban is being lifted, complaints by a number of citizens
remain. They will be pursued by the competent authorities."
The former communications minister, meanwhile, seemed satisfied by the
"This is common sense," Abu Daka said shortly after Abbas' announcement.
"I'm sure that once he had the facts, he took the decision. This gave us a
bad name internationally and opened up the Palestinian Authority to a lot of
criticism. It was legitimate criticism, by the way."
Abu Daka says he still does not know if the president was initially aware of
the attorney general's actions. He doubts al-Mughni came up with the idea
The former minister says that if Abbas approved the plan, "it was on very
bad advice. If he knew about this, he was given bad information and it had
negative consequences for us."
He added: "We can debate, this is a good thing. Who cares if a couple
websites want to criticize us? Until two weeks ago, most people hadn't even
heard of them."