Media Mention of Hussein Ibish in The New York Times - March 28, 2013 - 12:00am

A Palestinian court on Thursday upheld a one-year jail sentence for a journalist convicted of insulting President Mahmoud Abbas with a pastiche image posted on Facebook. Another Palestinian was given the same sentence last month for posting a humorous caption beneath an image of Mr. Abbas kicking a soccer ball on the social network.

The journalist, Mamdouh Hamamreh, said that he did not create or publish the composite image that compared Mr. Abbas to a character from a Syrian historical drama who collaborated with French colonialists. The court, applying part of the old Jordanian legal code that criminalizes insulting the king to an Internet jibe against the Palestinian president, was not swayed by Mr.Hamamreh’s s argument that he had played no part in the decision by the person who did upload the image to Facebook to draw it to his attention by adding his name as a tag to the text that accompanied it.

Hussein Ibish, a fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington, pointed on Twitter to what appeared to be a copy of the offending composite image.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms explained in a statement decrying the sentence:

Hamamrah’s case started in September 2009, when he was arrested and transferred to the public prosecutor. He was arrested due to a claim by the Palestinian intelligence service, that they found an offensive image of President Abbas posted on his own social networking page Facebook next to a character in a Syrian drama TV show “Ma’amoun Beik,” as a comparison to the character, who is known in the drama show for hiding his true evil face from a community in Syria and working as a spy for the French. In fact Hamamrah was not the person who posted this picture, or made any comments, and did not share it.

“We don’t have a king, we have a president,” Riham Abu Aita of the the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms told Reuters. “When images online are criminalized, it’s a very serious violation of basic rights of expression.”

Late Thursday, the Palestinian Maan News Agency reported that the president’s office had decided to pardon the journalist.

As the Maan News Agency reported last month, a court in Nablus sentenced Anas Saad Awwad, 26, to a year in prison for adding a jokey caption to a digitally altered photograph of Mr. Abbas taken during a visit to the Real Madrid soccer stadium in 2011.

According to his lawyer, Mr. Awwad was accused of Photoshopping a Real Madrid shirt over the president’s suit and adding the caption: “the new striker for Real Madrid.”

“My son only commented on Facebook,” Mr. Awwad’s father told the Electronic Intifada after he was sentenced last month. “You know how young people comment. He didn’t mean to insult the president. I ask the president to intervene personally to cancel the court’s decision.”

Issam Abdeen of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq told The Associated Press that Mr. Awwad’s sentence was overturned on appeal earlier this month, but several other Palestinians face similar charges.


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