World

Palestinian leader curbs social media expression in decree

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has clamped down on social media and news websites with a vaguely worded decree that critics say allows his government to jail anyone on charges of harming "national unity" or the "social fabric."

Social media and the websites are the main outlets for debate and dissent in the West Bank.

Rights activists say the edict, issued without prior public debate last month, is perhaps the most significant step yet by Abbas' government to restrict freedom of expression in the autonomous Palestinian enclaves of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

A Palestinian prosecutor denies the decree is being used to stifle dissent and insisted that a new law on electronic crimes was needed to close legal loopholes that in the past allowed offenders, such as hackers, to go unpunished.