JERUSALEM (AP) — The Palestinian Authority has blocked the registration of a legal advocacy group representing critics and opponents detained in Palestinian prisons, the group said Friday, a move condemned as the authority's latest effort to stifle civil society in the occupied West Bank.
Without proper registration, the group, Lawyers for Justice, could lose access to its funds and be forced to close. The organization was told it had violated the law by engaging in non-profit work and accepting foreign aid despite being registered as a “civil corporation,” said director Mohannad Karaje. Palestinian security forces refused to renew the registration even though Lawyers for Justice has operated as a civil corporation without issue for years, he added.
The New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch on Thursday described the authority's bureaucratic explanation as a thinly veiled attack on a group that has represented torture victims and helped document the self-rule government's arbitrary arrests of critics to crush dissent.
“So long as the Palestinian Authority blocks groups from carrying out work focused on their abuses, their calls to safeguard Palestinian civil society and protect Palestinian rights will continue to ring hollow,” Human Rights Watch said.
A spokesperson for the Palestinian security services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Karaje denounced the move as a sign of the authority's increasingly autocratic rule and a warning for groups fighting abuses in the West Bank. He said Lawyers for Justice would appeal the decision.
“This is a very dangerous step, an attempt to control civil society and human rights groups trying to work in Palestine,” Karaje told The Associated Press. “We have no doubt this is because of our work.”
With peace talks frozen for over a decade, experts say the Palestinian Authority, which was set up nearly three decades ago as an interim administration to lead the Palestinians toward statehood, faces a crisis of legitimacy. Many Palestinians deride the authority, headed by 88-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, as a vehicle for collaboration with Israel. Abbas is now in his 19th year of what was meant to be a four-year term.
Last month, prominent Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki found that for the first time, a majority — 52% of Palestinians — believe that the collapse of the authority is in their best interest.