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Palestinian judiciary and executive clash after arrest in Nablus court

A Palestinian protester carries a burning tire during clashes with Israeli forces following a demonstration on Friday against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in the village of Kfar Qaddum, near Nablus in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)
AMMAN: A constitutional crisis between the executive and judicial branches of government is developing in the Palestinian territories after the violent arrest of a lawyer inside a Nablus court this week.
Palestinian intelligence service officers dressed in civilian clothing broke into the Nablus Court of First Instance at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, arrested advocate Mohammed Hussein and beat him in front of lawyers, judges and the court police.
The government claims that the arrest was made outside the court.
Advocate Azzam Hashlamon, legal adviser to the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, told Arab News that video evidence showed that the arrest was made inside the courthouse. “This is a clear violation of the independence of the judiciary and the principles of the rule of law.”
The arrest followed a protest march last week in the village of Deir Al-Hatab in the Nablus district against plans to build a sewage treatment plant within the village’s boundaries. Protesters are accused of damaging public property.
Advocate Hussein, representing the village council, had submitted a suit against the building of the plant.
The government of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah accused the lawyer of inciting against the plant.
Hashlamon told Arab News that the plant will be funded with a grant of $40 million from the German government.
Hussein was taken to a prison in Jericho but the Bar Association, along with other civil society organizations, called on fellow lawyers to a protest outside the offices of the prime minister in Ramallah on Thursday. The Judicial Council, the attorney general’s office and the consortium of human rights organizations all issued statements condemning the extra-judicial actions inside the court house.
Izzat Ramini, a judge from Nablus who participated in the protest on Thursday, called on President Mahmoud Abbas to intervene. “The court’s jurisdiction was violated and a lawyer’s rights were trampled on, this is a violation of the basic law,” he said to a crowd of jurists made up of lawyers, judges, staff from the attorney general’s office and human rights activists.
Aziz Abu Hamad, deputy attorney general, said that the attack violated the independence of the judiciary. “We call on President Abbas to set up an investigation committee to hold those responsible to account.”
Bassam Salhi, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, also stated his support for the judiciary.
Majed Arruri, a legal affairs expert based in Ramallah, told Arab News that what had happened was a clear breach of the rule of law. “It is a retraction of the rule of law and represents the priority of security control in the absence of the law.”
The head of the Palestinian Bar Association, Jawwad Obeidat, who had helped to organize the protest, called for the resignation of the prime minister, saying that he made the order acting as minister of the interior.
Obeidat said that the attorney general had decided at 10:30 on Wednesday morning not to detain the accused lawyer because the charge against him was not serious. The judge let him continue his work at the courthouse in Nablus, Obeidat told the protesters and the attending press.
“One hour later civilian-dressed security barged in to the courthouse and beat and arrested our colleague.”
The Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq issued a statement corroborating what the head of the Bar Association had said — that the arrest and beatings took place inside the courthouse.
Obeidat said that what had happened was a crime against the entire judicial system: Lawyers, judges and the attorney general’s office.
“We call on Maj. Gen. Hazem Atallah, the director general of the Palestinian police, to open an investigation into the failure of the judicial police to protect everyone inside the walls of the courthouse.”
Following the jurist protests, Mohammed Mansour, the director general of the Palestinian Ministry of Interior, issued a statement saying that “the independence of the legal branch is guaranteed” and that the prime minister has ordered an investigation into the accusations.
He said “that the role of the judiciary and the court sanctity must be respected.”

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