Al Mezan warns about the referral of al-Shuaibi and Haj Hussien by the Palestinian Public Prosecution and the possible chilling effects on Palestinian civil society
On 5 June 2023, the Palestinian Public Prosecution summoned Dr. Azmi Al-Shuaibi and Mr. Issam Haj Hussein, respectively Advisor to the Board of Directors and Executive Director of Aman. The summoning came following a libel and defamation complaint filed against them by the Palestinian Presidential office upon the release of Aman’s annual integrity and anti-corruption report for the year 2022 on 17 May 2023. Despite calls made to the Public Prosecution to consider the report’s findings and open an investigation into allegations of corruption, the prosecutor's office sent the file back to the court.
Based on the latest developments, the case was sent to court and a hearing, originally scheduled for June 6, 2023, was moved to June 17 at the request of defense attorneys.
Al Mezan is extremely concerned about the prosecution of civil society organizations (CSOs) for carrying out their roles of monitoring public affairs and exposing any illegal practices by national authorities. In Palestine, the role of the CSO is also of exceptional importance in light of the absence of the Legislative Council. The Public Prosecution and the judiciary should support reports of corruption and pay close attention to CSOs reporting, which has a role in improving public performance and preventing corruption.
Palestinian CSOs, including Aman, carry out their activities for the greater good, with a focus on enhancing the rule of law, separation of powers, transparency, and accountability as the most important foundations of any democratic political system. In carrying out such duties, CSOs supplement and enhance the role of Public Prosecution and assist the Legislative Council in fulfilling its oversight tasks.
To ensure that individuals and groups—particularly civil society organizations that carry out an oversight role—have the right to freedom of opinion and expression in accordance with Palestine’s international obligations, the Public Prosecutor must consider the nature of their role in considering complaints received about alleged libel and defamation offenses. This requires a proper interpretation of criminal provisions, taking into account the requirements of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the nature of the functioning of overseeing institutions. Al Mezan warns of the consequences that the case could have on the work of Palestinian civil society organizations and the state of rights and freedoms, particularly freedom of opinion and expression.
Accordingly, Al Mezan condemns the summoning of Dr. Shuaibi and Mr. Haj Hussein and calls on the Public Prosecution to investigate the findings of Aman’s report rather than punishing the organization’s leaders. The Palestinian authorities must strengthen the role of CSOs in fulfilling the State of Palestine's obligations arising from its adherence to human rights conventions and prioritize the interests of the country and its citizens over individual interests in order to promote transparency in public work and increase public confidence in government performance.