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Palestinians Release Activist Jailed for Facebook Post

Palestinian activist Issa Amro, center, speaks after his release from detention, in the West Bank city of Hebron, Sept. 10, 2017.

A Palestinian activist who has run afoul of both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities was released from a Palestinian jail Sunday, a week after he was arrested for writing a Facebook post critical of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Issa Amro, who says he pursues a path of non-violence against discriminatory Israeli policies and Jewish settlements in the West Bank city of Hebron, now faces the rare predicament of criminal proceedings in both an Israeli military court and a Palestinian court.

Amro was arrested on September 4 for writing a Facebook post criticizing the detention of a Palestinian journalist who was arrested for calling for President Mahmoud Abbas's resignation.

His attorney said Sunday that Amro was released on $1,400 bail after being held under a recent edict that allows the government to crack down on social media critics. Farid Atrash said it was "shameful'' that his client was arrested for exercising his right of free expression.

"They want to silence me and silence every voice defending human rights, but they are wrong. I will continue defending human rights and struggling against occupation,'' he said following his release from jail on Sunday. He denied any wrongdoing.

In jail last week, Amro began a hunger strike to protest what he said was an unlawful detention, made without a warrant or due process.

Following his release, Amro said he was verbally and physically abused during his investigation by Palestinian security.

Though he has been freed from jail for now, Amro's legal battles are only just starting.

Amro, a 35-year-old activist whose organization Youth Against Settlements protests against Israeli settlements in his hometown of Hebron, also faces charges at an Israeli military court for allegedly inciting violence and hindering soldiers during official duties. His trial is to resume in October.

Despite facing double-barrel legal battles for his political activities, Amro vows to press forward with what he says is a non-violent struggle.

"I know the law and never, ever violated it,'' he said. "I never incited for violence, I never incited against any official. I call for human rights.''

Amro's arrest by Palestinian security last week prompted rights groups to urge the Palestinian Authority to release him. Amnesty International condemned his arrest as "a shameless attack on freedom of expression.''

Last week nine members of U.S. Congress penned a letter to Abbas asking him to "immediately drop the baseless charges and release'' Amro, calling his detention "extremely concerning.''

In June, 32 members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to persuade Israeli authorities to drop charges against Amro. The lawmakers expressed concern that some of the allegations against him are "not internationally recognizable criminal offenses'' and that the military court "will not render a fair and impartial verdict.''

In July, two United Nations human rights rapporteurs said the Israeli charges against him were "directed squarely at his lawful right to peacefully protest.''

Amro, like several other Palestinian journalists, was arrested and charged with disturbing public order under a recently passed Electronic Crimes Law, and "causing strife'' under a 1960 Jordanian law. Human rights organizations have noted a spike in journalists arrested by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, particularly after the implementation of the vaguely worded decree in July.

The law enables the Palestinian Authority government to jail those who harm "national unity'' or the "social fabric'' online. Critics say the edict, issued without prior public debate, is perhaps the most significant step yet by Abbas' government to restrict freedom of expression in the autonomous Palestinian enclaves of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Amnesty International reported that Palestinian Authority security services arrested at least six journalists in August and shut down dozens of websites in a major crackdown on free speech.