Palestinian authorities must ensure the safety of protesters preparing to hit the streets again, the UN rights chief said Thursday, after demonstrations sparked by the death of an activist were violently repressed.
Nizar Banat’s death in custody last week shortly after security forces stormed his home and violently arrested him, triggering days of angry protests in the West Bank, a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967.
“The Government of the State of Palestine is obliged to ensure freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
“Palestinian Security Forces must act to provide safety and security for the exercise of human rights, including peaceful assembly,” she added, asking for a prompt investigation into “any unnecessary or disproportionate use of force. Banat was a 43-year-old known for social media videos criticizing alleged corruption within the Palestinian Authority, which activists say has grown increasingly intolerant of dissent.
In the statement, Bachelet welcomed assurances given by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh that Banat’s death would be fully investigated and that protesters’ rights to freedom of assembly and expression would be respected.
Demonstrators will hit the streets again on Saturday in Ramallah, the statement read.
“Last weekend, we witnessed Palestinian Security Forces using force against initially entirely peaceful protesters, including beating them with batons and firing teargas and stun grenades,” Bachelet said.
She expressed particular concern over “the presence of large numbers of non-uniformed people acting in a seemingly organized and coordinated manner with the Palestinian Security Forces.”
“During one of these protests, one of our staff members monitoring it was punched and pepper-sprayed by a person in civilian clothing,” she said.
“Many people, including journalists and human rights defenders were similarly assaulted.”
“We have also witnessed and received credible reports of specific targeting of women present in the demonstrations — women protesting, reporting for media or merely bystanders,” Bachelet said, noting that many women reported being sexually harassed at demonstrations, had their mobile phones confiscated or stolen, and reported being summoned by security forces.
“There have been threats, including death threats, and harassment, including of sexual nature, against them on social media,” the statement read.