Palestinian Authority arrests photographer over Instagram post

PA riot police confront Palestinian demonstrators in Hebron during a 2014 rally in solidarity with hunger strikers in Israeli jails.

Mamoun Wazwaz APA images

A Palestinian user of Instagram spent Monday night in a Palestinian Authority jail cell after posting a photo of a police officer to the social media site.

The Instagram user spoke to The Electronic Intifada on condition of anonymity due to fear of PA reprisals.

The Instagram user was in a Ramallah-area village taking photos as part of their office job. The user took a photo of a PA police officer and later decided to post it to their personal Instagram account.

The police officer was not identifiable from the photo, as his face was cropped out, the Instagram user said. Statistics about the PA were posted alongside the photo, such as the fact that 80 percent of the PA’s revenue comes from foreign governments or taxes that are controlled by Israel.

For this, PA police later arrested the Instagram user, threatened them with violence and kept them in a cell overnight.

“Foreign agent”

While taking the photo, the Instagram user was questioned by the police officer. The officer was told that the photo may be posted to Instagram. The Instagram user later found one of the police officers following them on Instagram.

The Instagram user’s boss on Sunday got a phone call from the police, who told the Instagram user to delete the photo, which they did.

The Instagram user was ordered into the village police station, with the police saying they wanted to talk. Their boss came along, but eventually left.

The police then made a “huge, unexplained attack on me,” the user told The Electronic Intifada.

The Instagram user was accused of being “immoral” and a “foreign agent.” The police officer said the Instagram user “offended me by posting my picture.”

The Instagram user claims they were accused of being a “Hamas and Fayyad agent at the same time.” This was a reference to Salam Fayyad, the PA’s unelected former “prime minister.”

Fayyad was never a part of the Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas to which PA police in the West Bank are loyal.

Another Instagram photo of graffiti reading “Down with Abu Mazen” (Mahmoud Abbas) was said by the police officer to be evidence of “how hateful you are.”

“Beat the shit out you”

The Instagram user was then taken to a prison in Ramallah. The police said “we could have beat the shit out of you but we didn’t.”

It was only at this point the Instagram user realized they were being arrested.

The jail cells were overcrowded, according to the Instagram user. Although they were supposed to be remand cells, they also contained convicted prisoners, including those accused of drug dealing, financial fraud and even parking ticket violations.

The Instagram user once worked for the PA and has good family connections – so they were released Tuesday after one night in the cell. The Instagram user was made to sign a paper saying they would never “insult or confront a police officer” or ever “incite” against them again.

PA oppression

Since the Palestinian uprising that began in October, the PA has become increasingly worried and paranoid about criticism from Palestinian civil society.

Acting hand-in-glove with Israeli occupation forces, the PA frequently cracks down on Palestinian opposition. Like Israel, it has a record of human rights abuses and torture of prisoners.

The PA spends 31 percent of its budget every year on its police and military forces, which is as much as it spends on agriculture, health and education combined. It is a bigger percentage of its total budget than the US, the UK, Israel or India spend.

The PA is in effect an arm of the Israeli occupation, outsourced to a Palestinian elite.

PA leader Mahmoud Abbas (whose term as president expired in 2009) has previously called this security coordination with Israel a “sacred” duty.

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You never use the word they/them to refer to a single person.

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He first visited Palestine in 2004.