Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas issued a broad decree against expression harmful to "national unity" that authorities have used to target dissenters.
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) found the government has blocked 30 websites, mostly connected to Abbas' political rivals, the Associated Press reports. These range from a former Abbas aide, Mohammed Dahlan, to the Islamist group Hamas, all of whom vie for power in the West Bank and Gaza.
"There is nothing about [restricting] freedom of expression in the new law," said Ibrahim Hamodeh, a prosecutor in Abbas' attorney general’s office.
"The law criminalizes distortion, defamation, slandering," Hamodeh added. "One can criticize the president and his policy but one cannot accuse the president or anyone else of treason or make fun of him in an image, or something like that."
Others are calling the law a major curtailment of freedom under an administration struggling to maintain legitimacy.
It is "a big setback to the freedoms in the West Bank," said Ammar Dweik, the head of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights. He also called it "one of the worst" laws in the Palestinian government.
Five journalists working for Hamas-affiliated outlets have been arrested on charges of breaking the new law. Another four journalists were questioned about posts on social media.
Fadi Arouri of the Chinese outlet Xinhua said that his Facebook posts prompted the government to tell him "these expressions could lead to disorder in the society."
Abbas has ruled the Palestinian Authority for years after his last elected term ended, despite polls showing about two-thirds of Palestinians wanting him to resign. He last won a five-year term in 2005, and his power in the region has been waning, according to experts.
Selectively enforcing laws against expression has been a tool of the government for years, according to researchers at MADA.
"The Palestinian security services intervene in everything," Shahwan Jabareen of the veteran rights group al-Haq said.