By Erin Viner for TV7
Furor has erupted in the Palestinian Authority (PA), after the death of a known activist detained by President Mahmoud Abbas‘ security forces.
Nizar al-Banat, 43, died “an unnatural death” according to the preliminary findings of an autopsy concluded by Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR).
Banat had been a social activist with 100,000 Facebook followers who had openly accused Abbas’ PA of corruption.
This past Monday, he condemned PA officials as mercenaries for canceling its coronavirus vaccine exchange deal with Israel earlier this month.
He was also publicly critical of Abbas’ decision to call off its first parliamentary elections in 15 years that had been slated for 22 May – in which he had been registered to run. Opponents of the Palestinian President said he cancelled the vote to avoid losing to his rivals, the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza; which he denies.
The human rights organization led its own investigation into Banat’s death with consent of his next of kin – marking significant demonstration of public distrust in an inquiry that had been ordered Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, an Abbas appointee.
Hundreds of angry Palestinians immediately marched on the presidential compound in Ramallah to demand Abbas resign over the death. Some protestors in central Ramallah clashed with security forces, who responded with the firing of tear gas and stun grenades.
“We are deeply disturbed by the death of Palestinian activist Nizar Banat and the information that has been reported regarding the circumstances of his death,” said United States Department of State Spokesman Ned Price in a statement obtained by TV7.
“We have serious concerns about Palestinian Authority restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression by Palestinians and harassment of civil society activists and organizations,” said the statement, while offering Washington’s “sincere condolences to his family and community” and call for the PA “to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation and to ensure full accountability in this case.”
The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, expressed alarm and said he was saddened by the death while also urging a a transparent investigation, in a message posted on Twitter.