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This position paper was prepared by 7amleh - The Arab Center for Social Media Development as part of 7amleh's advocacy work, focused on defending Palestinian digital rights. It is a part of a series of position papers examining the effects of the policies and practices of governments and companies on Palestinian digital rights.
The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, issued a decree on 5 March 2020, declaring a state of emergency in all of the Palestinian territories for one month to confront the coronavirus and prevent an outbreak. On 22 March 2020, he issued the State of Emergency Law by Decree that stipulates, among other issues, penalties for any person who violates the decisions, instructions, and measures applied by the official authorities to achieve the goals of the state of emergency. These penalties include one year of imprisonment and fines, without prejudice to any other penalties stipulated in other Palestinian laws. Moreover, the president issued a decree on 3 April 2020, to extend the state of emergency in all Palestinian territories 30 more days to confront the coronavirus, and then a new presidential decree for the state of emergency was announced again until 5 June 2020.
The emergency legislation has explicitly targeted digital rights and privacy, among other things, and includes broad terms related to criminalisation and punishment, with no legal provisions, safeguards, or measurable standards.Criminalising and punishing posts, statements, or news on social media related to the state of emergency provides more space for restrictions on freedom of opinion, privacy and digital rights in emergency legislations. Any post can be criminalised as long as it is not premised on an official source; regardless of whether it is true or false. In addition to these measures, there is insufficient transparency and government plans to deal with the pandemic. Even though civil society is working to document arrests related to digital content, only the official news is reaching the public. This foreshadows the further challenges and constraints that Palestinians will face in the coming stages as the health, economic, social and psychological consequences of the crisis aggravate.