- Associated Press - Monday, April 2, 2012

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK (AP) - A Palestinian woman accused of defaming the president on her Facebook page has been detained for two weeks while an investigation is carried out, activists said Monday, in what they say is a growing crackdown on writers who criticize the West Bank government.

Palestinian security forces arrested Ismat Abdul-Khaleq, a West Bank university lecturer, last Wednesday after they found writing on her Facebook page accusing President Mahmoud Abbas of being a traitor and demanding he resign, said lawyer Issam Abdeen of the Palestinian rights group al-Haq.

Abdul-Khaleq’s detention is the latest in what activists say is the Palestinian authorities’ increasing intolerance of criticism and a worrying trend of mining Facebook to spy on Palestinians.

“We are genuinely concerned about tightening limits on freedom of expression and on the media,” Abdeen said. “We don’t want reporters to second-guess what they write on whether they will be punished or not.”

Abdeen said the Palestinian public persecutor’s office was particularly harsh in ordering the prolonged detention of those accused of defamation. Abdul-Khaleq is a single mother of two children.

In other recent cases, newspaper reporter Yousef al-Shayeb has been held for eight days for allegedly defaming public officials. Al-Shayeb was expected to be released Monday after a court ordered him freed on $8,000 bail after a public outcry.

Two other reporters were interrogated last week, one for his Facebook posts and the other over a story he was researching.

A Palestinian spokesman said he could not comment on the cases because the judiciary was independent of the government.

Defaming the president and other high-level officials is a crime in the Palestinian Authority.

“These expressions go beyond freedom of expression,” said public prosecutor Ahmed al-Mughani.

She is also accused of calling Abbas a “traitor” and saying he partied with prostitutes on the graves of slain Palestinians. Abdeen said Abdul-Khaleq denied she wrote those things.


Hadid reported from Jerusalem.

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