Cybercrime laws as a weapon against expression
The Palestinian Authority’s cyber crime law, formally announced on 24 June 2017, addresses a gamut of crimes committed on the Internet, including financial misdeeds, impersonation, hacking and violation of privacy, and the recent rapid increase of sextortion, a form of blackmail in which sexual information or images are used to extort sexual favors or money from victims.
But freedom of expression activists are concerned that there is another agenda at play. The law was drafted by the Palestinian Authority (PA) government in a way that means it could potentially be used to criminalize any form of criticism in the digital sphere and silence political opponents. They point out that the earliest arrests made under the new law, just weeks after it was passed, are a worrying sign that it will used primarily as a weapon against free speech instead of as a tool to crack down on criminal acts.
Just weeks after the law’s formal introduction, five journalists were arrested for writing Facebook posts critical of the PA. The government alleged that they had “leaked information to hostile entities.” The five arrested by the PA are from media outlets affiliated with the rival political faction Hamas, an indication that the law was used to infringe on the right to free speech.