Monday, July 9, 2007

Worries about Palestinian democracy

Worries about Palestinian democracy climb as Abbas strengthens role of military courts

"RAMALLAH, West Bank — In a bid to undercut his Hamas rivals and solidify control in the West Bank, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is working to dilute the power of the fractured Palestinian legislature and expand the role of controversial military courts.

In his latest move, made public Monday by a Palestinian human rights group, Abbas issued a decree granting broad power to military courts to decide the fate of Palestinians accused of harming "public safety." The order will allow military judges to handle new charges against civilians.

The latest moves by Abbas are drawing criticism from human rights groups and a cross-section of Palestinian lawmakers.

Even some of his advisers view the presidential decrees as risky steps that could undermine the foundation of a fragile government once viewed as the best hope for establishing a healthy democracy in the Arab Middle East.

"In my opinion, this could be the beginning of the end of the Palestinian Authority," said Mustafa Barghouti, an independent lawmaker who served as information minister in the now-dissolved coalition government......

Military and security courts became a point of contention under the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who was criticized by human rights groups for establishing system of show trials used to silence critics. In one 1999 case, a Palestinian military officer was tried, sentenced for causing "public disorder" and executed within hours, before he had a chance to appeal his death sentence......"

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