Academic field trip explores freedom of expression

Students of the Media and Law Ethics course offered by Birzeit University’s Department of Media organized an academic study tour on December 15, 2019, visiting two government institutions (i.e., the General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and the Palestinian Ministry of Interior) and two human rights organizations (i.e., the Independent Commission for Human Rights–ICHR and the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms–MADA).

Rashad Twam, the lecturer of the course and organizer of the tour, said that that the visits aimed at providing  the students with knowledge about key practical issues regarding the freedom of expression, violations of rights, and mechanisms of protection.

The students first met with Majed Swalha, the director of public relations and media at the ICHR who introduced the foundation, its units and responsibilities to the students. Swalha then explained how the ICHR deals with the complaints it receives. He also pointed out ICHR attempts to implement a decree law on cybercrimes.

At their second station, the General Secretariat of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, the students met with Ibrahim Melhem, the Palestinian government spokesperson, who discussed the government’s new approach towards public freedoms and the freedom of expression since the recent designation of Mohammad Ishtayeh as the new prime minister. Melhem also talked about the ministry’s efforts to issue a law that sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.

The students then visited the ministry of interior where they met Yousef Harb, the deputy minister; Hayhtam Arrar, the head of the Democracy and Human Rights Unit; Ghassan Nimr, the ministry spokesperson and director of the Police Media Center; and Rania Barghouthy, a representative of the ministry’s complaints unit.

During this visit, the students learned how the ministry interacts with journalists, as it seeks to guarantee their freedoms and fulfil their right of access to information. All speakers at these meeting stated, however, that they refuse the exploitation of freedom of expression through media.

The final station brought the students together with Mousa Al-Rimawi, the general director of the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms–MADA, and Feras Karaja, the center’s attorney. Al-Rimawi introduced the students to the center and its activities, including the way in which complaints regarding violations of media freedoms are handled.

Each station included a Q&A session during which students had the chance to inquire with the hosting party about specific cases and issues.