January 30, 2011

(Ramallah) - Palestinian Authority security forces shut down a demonstration on January 30, 2011, in front of the Egyptian embassy in Ramallah, after calling in one of the organizers for questioning multiple times on January 29 and ordering him to cancel the event notice that he had created on Facebook. Human Rights Watch monitored the demonstration and spoke with participants.

At around 4 p.m., the first of roughly 40 to 50 Palestinian demonstrators began to gather in front of the embassy to show solidarity for ongoing protests in Egypt, but were met by 20 armed police who immediately tried to confiscate cameras and ordered a journalist to turn off her microphone and recorder. Security agents wearing masks drove up in a Palestinian Preventive Security service jeep - which was driving very fast, apparently to intimidate protesters - and were soon joined by officers in two other jeeps and three police cars, and a van of the kind the PA uses for arrests and prisoner transport.

Demonstrators said they had expected a higher turnout, but that Palestinian security agencies had called in one of the organizers of the protest for questioning three times in the last 24 hours and told him to cancel the event because "there were orders that no event related to Tunisia or Egypt was allowed at this time." Members of the Facebook page calling for the demonstration received Facebook messages late last night saying that it was canceled.

Security forces pushed the demonstrators around 300 meters away from the Egyptian embassy. At that point, a man who identified himself as a police commander said the demonstrators were in a "security area" and would have to disperse. Several women demonstrators told the police that Palestinian law required the demonstrators to notify the authorities 48 hours in advance and that they had done so. Women also convinced three policemen to release a demonstrator they had seized and dragged away when he shouted, "Long live Egypt!" The police dispersed the protest after one hour.

Human Rights Watch called on the Palestinian Authority to stop security forces' arbitrary interference with peaceful demonstrations.