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Out of ideas, Palestinian Authority censors critics

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The PA's democratic mandate expired nearly two years ago, when scheduled elections were cancelled because of the five-year rift between Mr. Abbas' Fatah Party, which is dominant in the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamist movement that now runs the Gaza Strip as a separate Palestinian enclave.

Amid on-again, off-again reconciliation efforts, the PA has trundled on under Fatah's guidance, and has shown increasing signs of authoritarianism and thuggish control of free speech, even as the Arab countries around them struggle to put that behind them.

Last week that PA blocked eight websites tied to a Fatah rival of Abbas, which had been heavily critical of the president, in an unprecedented case of Internet censorship. Communications Minister Mashour Abu Daka, who shortly thereafter resigned, told the Maan News Agency that Abbas' Attorney General Ahmad al-Mughni "made up his own laws to justify what was solely his decision. Blocking websites is against the public interest. I oppose it without exception.”

In March, Palestinian reporter Yousef al-Shayeb was arrested after a report alleging corruption at the Foreign Ministry, and Mr. Mughni defended the arrest as justified, calling Mr. Shayeb's reporting libelous. Two bloggers who criticized Abbas online were also recently arrested. And next week, the independent Palestinian Wattan television station is facing a $1 million defamation case over its reporting on alleged corruption involving a senior PA official.

The crackdown on the press is part of a broader pattern. In the West Bank, Hamas activists have been subject to arrest for their views for years now. (Hamas behaves in much the same manner against political opponents in Gaza, where authorities have also violently disbursed pro-Fatah demonstrations.)

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