UN official urges Palestinian security to allow protests

JERUSALEM (AP) — The U.N. human rights chief on Thursday urged the Palestinian Authority to ensure the safety of protesters after security forces and supporters of President Mahmoud Abbas attacked demonstrators over the weekend.

The protests erupted after an outspoken critic of the PA died shortly after his family says he was severely beaten by security forces who arrested him. The PA, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has grown increasingly autocratic and unpopular in recent years.

Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Palestinian security forces had used force against initially peaceful protesters, “including beating them with batons and firing teargas and stun grenades.”

The statement said she was concerned about “the presence of large numbers of non-uniformed people acting in a seemingly organized and coordinated manner” with the Palestinian forces.

“During one of these protests, one of our staff members monitoring it was punched and pepper-sprayed by a person in civilian clothing,” Bachelet said. “Many people, including journalists and human rights defenders, were similarly assaulted.”

She said women appear to have been singled out, whether they were protesting or reporting for the media or were just bystanders, with many reporting being sexually harassed.

There was no immediate comment from the PA. More protests are expected this weekend.

Bachelet called on authorities “to ensure freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly,” and said that the security forces must “provide safety and security for the exercise of human rights.”

“Any unnecessary or disproportionate use of force must be promptly, transparently and independently investigated,” she said.

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