Palestinian Authority security forces arrested anti-corruption protesters in Ramallah on Sunday, drawing condemnation from rights groups.
An organizer said the PA arrested 23 protesters in its de facto capital for speaking out against nepotism in the government headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. Health minister Dr. Mai al-Kaila and Abbas religious adviser Mahmoud al-Habash are among senior officials who have appointed relatives to top positions.
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The crackdown came as a majority of Palestinians accuse their leadership of corruption. A survey conducted annually by Transparency Palestine found that 63 percent of Palestinians say there is a "high" level of corruption in Ramallah. The same percentage gave that response in 2019.
Seven of the activists were being held as of Monday for "violating the state of emergency" imposed by the PA over the coronavirus pandemic, the Jerusalem Post reported. The Civic League for the Protection of the Constitution said the arrests were unjustified.
"We express our shock at the growing intolerance toward the people's right to hold peaceful gatherings and freedom of expression," the group said. "These rights are protected in accordance with the Palestinian Basic Law. We call for the immediate release of the detainees and strongly warn against the practices [of PA security forces]."
Another Palestinian group, Lawyers for Justice, called the arrests a "blatant infringement of the law" by security forces.
The Palestinian Authority has been beset by other corruption scandals, including an accusation by former Abbas official Yasser Jadallah that the PA president stole foreign aid money from international organizations.
Abbas has been president of the PA since 2005, the last year the Palestinians held free elections.