Rights group: West Bank authorities silence student dissent

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JERUSALEM (AP) — A leading international rights group voiced concerns Thursday that Palestinian authorities in the West Bank are increasingly clamping down on freedom of expression by arresting students for political affiliations or comments made on Facebook.

Human Rights Watch said dozens of students have been arrested by Palestinian security forces in the territory for criticizing the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, or for expressing support for the militant Hamas group, which runs the Gaza Strip.

The New York-based watchdog said it was "deeply worrying" that students are detained by Palestinian forces for their views.

Palestinian police arrested two students over their Facebook posts, it said. One student was detained for 30 days for criticizing an official on social media.

HRW quoted journalism student Ayman Mahariq from West Bank's Al Quds University as saying that plainclothes policemen asked him to come to a police station, where they beat him and showed him a printout of his Facebook posts. He said he has since deleted the posts, including those calling for an end to "military rule."

The report by HRW also cited Bara al-Qadi, a media student at the West Bank's flagship university Bir Zeit, who was reportedly held without charges for almost two weeks by Palestinian security forces for "insulting a public official." He had called on Facebook for soccer official Jibril Rajoub to resign after the Palestinian team lost 5-1 to Jordan.

Palestinian spokesman Adnan Dameri denied arbitrary arrests for political reasons in the West Bank.

If this were true, he said, "you would have seen thousands of people in jail."

"These people have been arrested for the criminal charge of incitement of sectarian violence and other criminal charges," he added.

About week after a Hamas-affiliated student group won elections at Bir Zeit, the Palestinian Authority canceled all school elections in the area. A student representative told HRW he was arrested and beaten by Palestinian police.

Human Rights Watch also recommended that countries which support the Palestinian Authority should monitor human rights there.

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