Palestinian Fatah official to be jailed over incitement on Facebook

Omar Shalabi (left) with late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Credit: Facebook.

(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to The Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court set a legal precedent on Tuesday by ruling that inflammatory statements expressed on Facebook constitute grounds for a criminal conviction.

Omar Shalabi, 44, the secretary-general of the Palestinian Fatah party’s Jerusalem branch and a resident of the Palestinian village of Eizariya, east of Jerusalem, was sentenced to nine months in prison for online incitement to violence and support of terrorism. He was convicted as part of a plea bargain reached with the Israeli State Attorney’s Office.

This marked the first time that an Israeli court has rendered a conviction over inflammatory statements made on social media. According to the indictment, Shalabi wrote dozens of Facebook posts supporting violence and terrorism, and lauding the actions of terrorists and terror groups. His comments were made last summer after Hamas’s June abduction and murder of Jewish teens Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Frenkel in Gush Etzion, which was followed by the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

At the time, Shalabi’s Facebook account had 5,000 friends and 755 followers. The indictment listed 10 posts inciting violence and lauding terrorism, including seven posts whose dates coincided with terrorist attacks and urged violence against Israelis, and three posts that lauded terrorists who murdered Israelis.

“The defendant’s acts abused the right of free speech, thus undermining the state as a democracy ensuring civil liberties,” prosecutor Yifat Pinhasi said.

The prosecution further argued that using a social media platform as popular as Facebook constituted aggravating circumstances, enabling Shalabi to easily spread his incitement.

Shalabi’s attorney, Tariq Barghout, argued that this was an uncharted legal realm, and that Facebook users should first be warned that their posts may exceed the limits of online free speech. But the court said that argument “carries only minimal weight, as this is not a new offense never before introduced in court, but rather a new application that makes use of innovative technology.”

Posted on May 13, 2015 .