Palestinian journalist jailed for Abbas photo

Mar 28, 2013, 4:48 PM EDT
REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — A West Bank appeals court on Thursday upheld a one-year prison term for a Palestinian journalist who had a photo on his Facebook page that authorities claimed portrayed President Mahmoud Abbas as a traitor, rights activists said.

It was the second such case in two months, and Abbas' Palestinian Authority is facing mounting criticism for stifling dissent. In particular, Abbas' security forces have targeted supporters of the Islamic militant Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip from him in 2007.

The defendant in Thursday's case was Mamdouh Hamamreh, a reporter for the Hamas-linked Al-Quds TV.

Nimer Hamad, an adviser to Abbas, said the Palestinian president would pardon Hamamreh, but declined further comment.

Prosecutors have alleged that a photo montage on his Facebook page back in 2010 showed Abbas next to a villain in a popular TV drama about French colonial rule in the Levant. The villain was an informer for the French and the photo caption read: "They're alike."

Hamamreh denied that he was the one who posted the photo, but last year a court sentenced him to a year in prison. An appeals court upheld the sentence Thursday, said Issam Abdeen of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq.

In February, a Palestinian court sentenced university student Anas Awwad, 26, to a year in jail for "cursing the president" on Facebook. The Palestinian judiciary applies a Jordanian law that criminalizes cursing the king.

Awwad's father said at the time that his son was being punished for what appeared to be a humorous caption under a picture showing Abbas kicking a soccer ball.

An appeals court overturned Awwad's sentence earlier this month and ordered a new trial, Abdeen said. Several other Palestinians face similar charges, he said.

Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, which administers 38 percent of the West Bank, have come under fire repeatedly for squashing dissent. Hamas, which rules Gaza, has faced similar accusations, including going after supporters of Abbas' Fatah movement.

The Palestinian political split of 2007 largely halted the work of democratic institutions. It paralyzed the parliament and prevented new parliamentary and presidential elections.