Joint Letter regarding the Palestinian Authority Cyber-crime law
Salah Alayan Secretary General, Council of Ministers Office of the Council of Ministers Ramallah-Masyoun
Your Excellency, We are writing to you to welcome proposed revisions to the recently passed Law on Electronic Crimes (16 of 2017), and urge you to ensure that any amended draft fully respects the rights to freedom of expression, privacy and protection of data in line with Palestine’s international and domestic legal obligations.
We understand that discussions are still ongoing between Palestinian civil society organizations, the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s office regarding the necessary amendments, and we therefore offer our recommendations for your consideration. In a briefing published in August 2017, Amnesty International raised concern at the escalation in attacks on freedom of expression by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and the Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip. In particular, Amnesty International expressed concern that the Electronic Crimes law was being used a tool to silence legitimate free expression and criticism of the authorities, and called for authorities to repeal or amend the law to fully safeguard Palestinian rights to freedom of expression, privacy and protection of data.
Our organizations are encouraged to see that the new draft finalized on 4 December, and shared with Amnesty International on 14 December, no longer includes broad language that sets out punishments for expression that “infringes upon public morals,” (Art. 16), “would endanger the integrity of the Palestinian state, the public order or the internal or external security of the state,” (Art 20, 1 and 2), “offend[s] a sacred religious rite or belief” (Art 21), “attack[s] any family principles or values relating to the inviolability of private and family life” (Art 22), and “is committed with the purposes of disturbing public order… or with the intention of harming national unity, [and] social peace” (Art 51).
The open-ended language in these articles permits the imposition of prison sentences and heavy fines solely for peaceful online criticism of authorities. The revised draft also proposes to amend Article 31 that criminalizes the use of circumvention technology including proxies and virtual private networks (VPNs). While we welcome the proposed amendments, we fully support the calls made by Palestinian civil society to further amend the Electronic Crimes law to ensure that it fully complies with international standards, and Palestine’s obligations under international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, acceded to by Palestine in 2014.
Under international law, authorities may only restrict free expression if demonstrably necessary and proportionate to protect certain public interests (e.g. national security or public safety, public order, protection of public health or morals) or the rights and freedoms of others and never solely to restrict peaceful criticism of a political authority. Countries should also safeguard the right to privacy, a gateway right that affects the ability to exercise almost every other right, in particular freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. Our organizations therefore recommend amending or repealing the following articles from any revised legislation:
We hope that our concerns listed above are taken into consideration as work on a new draft of the Electronic Crimes law continues. Thank you for your attention. Yours sincerely, Amnesty International Avaaz Human Rights Watch 7amleh: The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media.
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