The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has detained at least four students over the past six months for political opinions, including affiliations with Hamas, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.
Two of the students are allegedly being mistreated inside prison.
According to the rights group, the Palestinian Authority has detained or summoned 25 students from Birzeit University and other universities after the 22 April student council elections.
HRW interviewed spokesperson for Palestinian Authority Security Services in the West Bank, Adnan Al-Dimiri, who said the arrests are not politically motivated.
On 22 April, Birzeit University posted on their official page that the student group, Al-Wafaa Al-Isslameya, “the student arm of Hamas”, won the 24 seats in the student council with a total of 3,400 votes.
Jihad Salim, a student representative of a Hamas-affiliated student group at Birzeit University, was arrested on 25 April 2015 after the group won elections.
Salim told HRW that police officers beat him, took him to a preventive security office in Ramallah, and interrogated him for 24 hours.
“Two different interrogators came in,” he said. “They started cursing my mother, cursing my sisters, slapping me around. Then they punched me, while asking questions about how Hamas won the elections.”
Another former representative of the student group, Ayman Abu Aram, was also taken in for interrogation on 28 April for 24 hours regarding affiliation with the Hamas political movement.
Abu Aram stated he was asked about his political affiliations and whether he had ever been to a Hamas protest, which he had.
The authorited have not presented concrete evidence in either of the two students’ cases, according to HRW.
In November 2014, Ayman Mahariq, a journalism student at Al-Quds University, was arrested after he wrote Facebook posts that were critical of the Palestinian Authority.
Another student, Bara Al-Qadi, was arrested in January 2015 for the same charges.
“The officers started hitting me, slapping me, kicking me, and punching my stomach,” he said. “The officers drew points on the wall and told me I can’t go off the points, and they drew a line on the floor where to put my legs; my legs were split because the points on the floor were very far apart.”
The court has set his trial for 8 June.
Four plainclothes security officials approached Mahariq and asked him to come to the police station, where they beat him and showed him a printout of the Facebook posts,” the HRW statement continued.
Mahariq’s posts read “down, down, with military rule!” and “curse the sisters of the security forces.”
Mahariq, who was charged with “insulting public authorities”, was released after 30 days and Al-Qadi after 13 days, HRW stated.
The Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus has previously been documents of having cases of torture, abuse, and human rights violations against political opponents.
The US, through the Office of the United States Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC), has provided funding and training to the Palestinian security apparatus since 2005.
In 2014, the US spent $45m training and equipping Palestinian Authority security forces.