P.A. Doesn't 'Respect Freedom of Expression'

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The Palestinian Authority has a ways to go with freedom of the press if it wants to become a democracy. Palestinian Authority police forces arrested and beat Bethlehem-based journalist and broadcaster George Canawati over the weekend on charges of alleged "slander and abuse."

A spokesman for the police said the Bethlehem prosecutor issued the charges and ordered Canawati's arrest.

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate called it a breach of freedom of expression, Jerusalem Post Palestinian Affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh reported.

According to the report, witnesses described the arrest as "violent," with one journalist calling the raid and search of his home degrading.

"This shows there is no political will to consolidate and respect freedom of expression in Palestinian society," Toameh quoted Mohamed Abu Arkoub, a journalist who advocates for media freedom in the Palestinian Authority.

P.A. police arrested Canawati twice before, once for reporting on a Fatah flier criticizing Bethlehem's mayor and another two years ago on charges of "slander and abuse" for a report about Bethlehem's medical services.

Last year, the Palestinian Authority detained several journalists for criticizing the government on Facebook, prompting the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information to say the P.A. is setting  a "dangerous precedent and an assault on freedom of expression…."

"Journalists are entitled to express their opinions without fear of being imprisoned or harassed," the group said in a statement.

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