Last Monday, Ma’an News Agency reported that “The Palestinian Authority has quietly instructed Internet providers to block access to news websites whose reporting is critical of President Mahmoud Abbas.” This report confirmed what I had been reporting since January. Shortly thereafter, PalTel said that it had “no choice” but to follow the censorship orders. Victoria Nuland, spokesperson at the U.S. State Department, said that the United States was “concerned” by the reports.
President Mahmoud Abbas issued formal instructions Saturday to reverse an order censoring news websites linked to one of his fiercest critics. "From this point forward, the attorney general and the judiciary are prohibited from shutting down or blocking websites, and they are instructed to lift any existing bans," Abbas wrote in an executive order. "Freedom of expression and opinion are natural rights guaranteed in the (Palestinian) Basic Law," Abbas said, urging journalists to nevertheless maintain their objectivity.
…The attorney general is to begin distributing clarifications to West Bank Internet service providers within 24 hours, informing them they are no longer required to block any websites, he said Saturday. Abbas briefed him in a meeting shortly before announcing the instructions, he said.
…The former communications minister, meanwhile, seemed satisfied by the reversal. "This is common sense," Abu Daka said shortly after Abbas' announcement. "I'm sure that once he had the facts, he took the decision. This gave us a bad name internationally and opened up the Palestinian Authority to a lot of criticism. It was legitimate criticism, by the way."
Abu Daka says he still does not know if the president was initially aware of the attorney general's actions. He doubts al-Mughni came up with the idea himself. The former minister says that if Abbas approved the plan, "it was on very bad advice. If he knew about this, he was given bad information and it had negative consequences for us."
He added: "We can debate, this is a good thing. Who cares if a couple websites want to criticize us? Until two weeks ago, most people hadn't even heard of them."
Abbas's decision came in response to sharp criticism from the US, EU and Western human rights organizations, a Western diplomat and PA officials told The Jerusalem Post.
They said that US and EU diplomats and government officials had contacted Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to voice their deep concern over the clampdown on freedom of expression in PA-controlled territories.