A Palestinian TV reporter faces charges of insulting a public figure after being tagged in a Facebook photo that ridicules the Palestinian Authority president, highlighting how social networks can just as easily be used to repress dissent as they can to aid it.
Mamdouh Hamamreh, a correspondent for Palestinian television station Al-Quds, was detained in September after he was tagged in an image of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas next to a picture of a Syrian actor who played a spy in a popular Arab television show, English-language Israeli paper The Jerusalem Post reports. The implication of the image is that Abbas is a traitor.
Hamamreh, who has since been released, told the Associated Press on Saturday that his prosecutors have set his first court date for next month. It’s worth noting that his TV station is sympathetic to militant Islamic group Hamas, which opposes Abbas’s Palestinian Authority. Prosecutors say Hamamreh posted the image, but Hamamreh says he had nothing to do with it.
The arrest highlights how social networks can be double-edged swords when it comes to free speech. While it’s easy to point to conflicts in which social networks have played a critical role in aiding dissent like the Iran election protests last year and the recent overthrow of Tunisia’s corrupt government, repressive governments also use them to monitor and quell dissent.
Bloggers in repressive countries were once largely permitted to write about topics that traditional media didn’t dare broach, but as their influence increased they started to be harassed and in some cases arrested by their governments. It wouldn’t surprise us if a similar story continues to emerge from social network use.