Palestinian journalist gets jail term for Abbas insult

RAMALLAH, West Bank Thu Mar 28, 2013 3:21pm EDT

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas looks on during the opening of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas looks on during the opening of the Arab League summit in Doha, Qatar, March 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A Palestinian court sentenced a local journalist to a year in jail on Thursday over a picture posted on Facebook that was deemed insulting to President Mahmoud Abbas.

The ruling against Mamdouh Hamamreh, who works for the al-Quds TV channel in Bethlehem, is the second this year in which Palestinians have been given jail terms over caricatures of the president.

Journalists and media watchdogs, saying Hamamreh was only "tagged" in the photo and did not create it, criticized the ruling and curbs on media freedom by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

The offending image juxtaposed Abbas beside a similar-looking man who plays the part of a collaborator with French colonial forces in an old Syrian television drama.

"They resemble each other in everything," a caption read.

Many Palestinians perceive Abbas as too conciliatory to Israel and resent coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security forces overseen by Abbas.

Palestinian rights groups were critical of the ruling.

"(Hamamreh) didn't even publish the picture. When images online are criminalised, it's a very serious violation of basic rights of expression," criminalizedaid Riham Abu Aita of the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms.

"We don't have a king, we have a president," she said.

"This issue is between the prosecutor and the court, and the president has nothing to do with its proceedings," Hassan al-Ouri, legal adviser to Abbas, told Reuters of the Hamamreh case.

A court in the northern West Bank city of Nablus in February sentenced a local man to a year in prison for creating a picture of Abbas to make him look like a football player, and entitled it "the new striker for Real Madrid".

Anas Awad, 26, denied he had intended any offence and the president promptly pardoned him.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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