On 11 July, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas decreed a new law which allows the imprisonment of anyone sharing or ”liking” Facebook or other social media posts that the Palestinian Authority leadership disapproves of.
The new Cyber Crime Law was enacted solely by President Abbas himself without review by the Palestinian Legislative Council, which has long been paralysed by a power struggle between Abbas’ fateh government and Hamas.
The new law has sparked waves of protests in the Palestinian Authority area, as journalists see it as an attempt to censor any criticism of the Palestinian Authority which Abbas leads. However, even before this law was passed, Palestinian journalists who posted material on social media critical of the Palestinian Authority were liable to be arrested. So why was this new law enacted, with penalties that are harsher than those imposed on thieves and sex offenders? The answer is almost certainly that it is part of an attempt to introduce a global Islamic blasphemy law for social media posts.
In 2016, Barnabas Fund reported concerns that Facebook were already censoring posts critical of Islam, particularly by those who had left Islam. These concerns were exacerbated when on 31 May last year an agreement was signed between the European Union and major internet providers such as Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter. That agreement committed IT companies to remove, within 24 hours, content deemed “offensive” by what it termed “civil society organisations.” It led the National Secular Society to warn that "far from tackling online 'cyber jihad,' the agreement risks having the exact opposite effect and entrapping any critical discussion of religion under vague 'hate speech' rules.”
Then in January this year a number of social media bloggers who had spoken up for human rights, particularly of religious minorities, were abducted in Pakistan. While they were still missing, an Islamist group calling itself “Civil Society of Pakistan” filed a police complaint accusing the abducted men of Islamic blasphemy, based on social media posts. Significantly, two of those accused had uploaded these social media posts either in Europe or in Singapore. The Pakistan government responded by calling a meeting of 27 Muslim ambassadors, including that of the Palestinian Authority, at the end of March to try to create a global Islamic blasphemy law for social media. Then as Barnabas Fund reported on 7 July Pakistan’s interior minister met with Facebook’s Vice President to discuss the way forward on this.
President Abbas may use the new Cyber Crime Law announced on 11 July to crack down on politicial opponents, but it is in a reality social media Islamic blasphemy law. This represents a very serious threat to Palestinian Christians. The impact of this new law is that even those who have fled to the West, as many have done in recent years, are liable to be imprisoned if they return to visit relatives in the Palestinian Authority area simply because they have uploaded social media posts in the West. This will have a chilling impact that is not wholly dissimilar from religious cleansing.