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Palestinian court grants bail to activist who criticised PA

FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2016 file photo, Palestinian activist Issa Amro, center, participates in a demonstration in the West Bank city of Hebron. Palestinian security forces have detained a prominent activist who criticized the government of Palestinian P
AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean, File
Social media users face jail time for posts or articles considered detrimental to 'national unity'

A Palestinian court agreed on Sunday to release a prominent activist on bail after his arrest on September 4 following his criticism of president Mahmoud Abbas's administration, his lawyer said.

Issa Amro was detained by Palestinian security forces in the southern West Bank city of Hebron on accusations including causing strife, human rights activists say.

His lawyer, Muhannad Karaja, said he has also been accused of creating websites that "aim to undermine the state's security" in violation of a new Palestinian law against cyber crime.

The law has been criticised by human rights groups who say it could be used to target critics of the Palestinian leadership.

"We asked for Issa to be released on bail and the prosecution and the court agreed on this in exchange for a deposit of 1,000 Jordanian dinars ($1,400, 1,200 euros)," Karaja told AFP.

"Issa will appear later before the court regarding this case and all the charges against him."

The hearing was held in secret, with journalists not allowed inside.

Dozens of activists protested outside prosecutors' offices on Sunday over Amro's detention, some with duct tape over their mouths.

Journalists and social media users face jail time for posts or articles considered detrimental to “national unity” or social cohesion, according a decree quietly issued by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

In August the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada) told the Associated Press that the PA blocked 30 websites during July.

Some contained extremist material linked to Islamic State, the NGO said, but others were aligned with Abbas’ Abu Dhabi-based rival, Mohammed Dahlan. 

After his release, Amro went to the offices of his Youth Against Settlements organisation, where he was warmly greeted by fellow activists and spoke out against the law.

"I hope the president of the state of Palestine will decide today to freeze this law," Amro said.

He spoke of the need for "a space for freedom of speech and freedom of criticism" and accused Palestinian security forces of verbal and "minor" physical abuse against him.

Also on trial by Israel

Abbas Momani (AFP/File)

Amro is the founder of Youth Against Settlements, a campaign group in the tense city of Hebron where Jewish settlers live in heavily guarded enclaves in the centre.

He was detained after criticising the Palestinian Authority's arrest of a journalist from Hebron.

Palestinian officials have not publicly commented on Amro's detention.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both criticised his arrest.

Amnesty has called it the "latest evidence that the Palestinian authorities are determined to continue with their repressive campaign against free speech."

Separately, Amro is on trial by Israel on a range of charges dating back to 2010.

He has rejected all the charges, saying they are politically motivated to prevent his peaceful resistance to Israel's military control of the West Bank.

"I have been threatened a dozen times by the Israeli occupation and I have received death threats from settlers, but all of this did not and will not stop me," he said Sunday, wearing a shirt emblazoned with the logo "Palestinians Should Be Free".

"I will continue defending my country against occupation and settlements, and defending the Palestinian national project for all the Palestinian people."

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