Palestinian authority blocks 8 news websites critical of Abbas

Ma'an news agency reported that internet providers blocked the access to news websites "critical" of Mahmoud Abbas on order of the Palestinian authority (PA).

Overall, eight news websites have been made unavailable to internet users in the West Bank. They include Amad, Fatah Voice, Firas Press, In Light Press, Karama Press, Kofia Press, Milad News and Palestine Beituna. The report says all focus on Fatah issues and most of them are traditionally loyal to Muhammad Dahlan, a former Fatah leader and critic of Mahmoud Abbas.

This is the first big step taken by the Palestinian Authority towards internet censorship. So far Palestinians in the West Bank had been able to access the internet relatively freely.

"This is unprecedented for them [...] It is troubling because they had done a relatively good job at keeping the Internet open until now,"says Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a US digital rights group. Dounia Al Watan, a website reporting on the corruption within the Palestinian authority, was the only website to have been blocked in the West Bank.

According to Ma'an news agency the order came from Ahmad al-Mughni. "The attorney general is responsible," communications minister Mashour Abu Daka told Ma'an, "He made up his own laws to justify what was solely his decision," the minister added. "Blocking websites is against the public interest. I oppose it without exception.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged the PA to "immediately unblock the affected sites and ensure a free and open Internet in Palestine."

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