Abdul Sattar Qassem: “They kept me in the company of criminals and murderers”

By Khalid Amayreh

Just released from a PA lockup ostensibly in connection with his outspoken criticisms of the Palestinian Authority, Abdul Sattar Qassem has accused his incarcerators of mistreating and humiliating him.

“They kept me in the company of criminals and murderers all these days.”

Qassem was arrested by the Preventive Security Force (PSF) last week on what seemed to be fabricated libel charges filed against him by two members of PA security agencies.

Qassem, a former presidential candidate and Professor of Political Science at al-Najah University in Nablus in the northern West Bank, said he believed his detention was meant as a warning against criticizing the PA government and security apparatus.

He described his ordeal as a “self-defeating act” for the PA, saying that he would continue to call the spade a spade irrespective of intimidation from the security agencies.

“freedom of speech and expression is a paramount issue over which there can be no compromise. Shielding this freedom from the forces of repression and despotism is a collective responsibility. If we tolerate violations of our human rights and civil liberties, then we will be jeopardizing our future as a people.”

Qassem strongly denied PA allegations that he had “besmirched the image” of certain PFC members during a television interview.

“I have been a victim of intimidation, assault and vandalism. I was always careful to submit a complaint against the perpetrators. However, instead of arresting the perpetrators and prosecuting them for their crimes, the PA authorities decided to arrest me. Isn’t that strange?”

Qassem spoke defiantly, saying that he wouldn’t be silenced.

“This country is our country, this land is our land, Falastin (Palestine) is our homeland, we have no other homeland, and we shall remain faithful to our faith, values, history and the legacy of our forefathers.”

PA political and security officials labeled Qassem’s arrest “criminal rather than political.” However, most observers in occupied Palestine are convinced that the arrest of Qassem, a well-known political intellectual, was motivated by a desire on PA part to punish and intimidate political opponents.

The PA continues to detain dozens of political activists and journalists on suspicion of being associated or affiliated with the Hamas movement.

Last week the PA arrested journalist Mustafa Sabri from his home in the northern West Bank town of Qalqilya.

The arrests coincide with the resumption in Cairo of the Hamas-Fatah dialogue.

Sources in Cairo reported that the main stumbling block impeding a national reconciliation agreement lied in PA demands that Hamas recognize Israel and abandon resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Hamas refuses to recognize Israel as a matter of religious ideology.

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