On 25 March 2019, the Magistrate Court in Gaza acquitted journalist Hajar Harb after dropping all charges of libel and impersonation under Penal Code No. 74 of 1936 and of dissemination of false and inciteful information under Palestinian Law No. 9 of 1995 on Printed Materials and Publication. Ms. Harb had been charged following her publication of an investigative article that pointed to potential corruption in the administration of healthcare relating to patient medical referrals in Gaza.
Ms. Harb was interrogated by prosecutors on 18 July 2016 and charged on 20 October 2016. She then travelled to Jordan for medical treatment. While abroad, on 4 June 2017 the magistrate court in Gaza sentenced her in absentia to six months in prison and a fine of 1,000 ILS (app. $250). Returning to Gaza, Ms. Harb appealed the court’s decision on 17 September 2017 and sought a retrial based on Chapter Five of the Civil Law of Procedure No. 2 of 2001. On 13 May 2018, the court decided to terminate the previous proceedings and re-try Ms. Harb in a series of hearings that afforded her the opportunity to defend herself, explaining her work and motives. The retrial resulted in the acquittal of Harb yesterday.
Al Mezan welcomes the decision to drop the charges against Ms. Harb and stresses that her acquittal is a victory for the rights to free opinion, expression, and the press—freedoms enshrined in Palestinian law and obligations under international law. Al Mezan reiterates its longstanding, firm position that journalists must not be prosecuted for their professional work. The prosecution of journalists restricts their engagement in free, comprehensive, and transparent coverage of issues of corruption and abuse of human rights.
The right to freedom of opinion and expression is protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and further enshrined in Palestinian Law on Printed Materials and Publication. Therefore, Al Mezan calls for the full respect of the law and for Palestine’s international legal obligations to be met, which requires legislative and policy reforms that ensure protection and promotion of human rights and civil liberties.
The de facto authorities in Gaza must align their policies and practices with the ruling of the Magistrate Court and must release all persons who have been arbitrarily detained following the recent popular protests throughout the Gaza Strip.