The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) condemns the killing of Nizar Banat, an activist from Hebron and candidate in the recently canceled legislative elections, following his violent arrest. Palestinian security forces stormed Banat’s home to arrest him in the early hours of 24 June 2021, during which he was beaten and pepper sprayed, according to his family. Hours after his arrest, Nizar Banat was announced dead. Initial autopsy results showed that his death was due to “unnatural causes” and additional lab test results are pending, according to the Independent Commission for Human Rights. Over the years, Banat had been repeatedly arrested and harassed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) for his activism and outspoken criticism, including posts and videos on social media.
In response to the killing of Nizar Banat and PA repression, which has been escalating since April 2021, Palestinians took to the streets in protest, including in Ramallah and Hebron, with chants of “the people want the fall of the regime.” Palestinian security forces responded by beating and arresting demonstrators and firing tear gas and sound bombs to disperse them. The killing of Nizar Banat marks a dangerous escalation by the PA in its ongoing repression and silencing of critical voices; marked by a pattern of increased harassment, summoning, and arrests of journalists, activists, and human rights defenders for their work and criticism of the PA.
In recent years, the Palestinian Authority has taken steps to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of the press, including on the internet, with amendments to strengthen the cybercrime law by presidential decree in 2017, which used overly broad and unclear definitions. Following the decree, Palestinians were arrested for expressing their views online, and dozens of websites were blocked. In May 2021, in the context of an intensified crackdown in the occupied West Bank, the PA suppressed protests against Israeli escalations and attacks in Jerusalem and Gaza by arresting demonstrators, including Palestinian activists and university students.
In yet another worrying development, President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree in March 2021 that made significant amendments to the law regulating NGOs, requiring organizations to submit their annual plan of action to the government. This requirement constitutes significant interference in the work of independent civil society. As of yet, the law has not been put into practice.
CIHRS is concerned that the Palestinian Authority’s repression and restrictions of basic freedoms will harm the wider Palestinian struggle for fundamental rights in the face of Israel’s continuing occupation and crimes against humanity, including the crime of apartheid.
In light of the Palestinian Authority’s worrying pattern of escalating repression and use of violence, CIHRS calls upon:
- The international community to condemn the killing of activist Nizar Banat in detention and call on the Palestinian Authority to ensure that an independent, impartial investigation proceeds into the circumstances of the killing and the perpetrators are held accountable.
- The OHCHR to monitor and address attacks against freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the media and press committed by Palestinian authorities in the occupied Palestinian territory.
- UN Special Procedures to send a request to the Palestinian Authority for clarifications regarding the killing of activist Nizar Banat in detention.
- The European Union to put in place proper accountability mechanisms in their assistance and training programs with the PA’s security forces, in order to ensure human rights are protected and international standards upheld.
- The Palestinian Authority to immediately and unconditionally end its practice of arresting and harassing Palestinian activists, journalists, and human rights defenders for exercising their right to freedom of expression; and to meet its obligations – under international law and the international conventions it has ratified – to protect and uphold the rights of the Palestinian people.
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