Coverage of Amnesty report repeats misleading ‘Palestinian Authority’ reference

This is a cross-post from Just Journalism

On Monday, Amnesty International released its latest report on the global use of the death penalty throughout the world. ‘Death Sentences and Executions in 2010 report’ includes details of ‘527 executions in 23 countries’, excluding China. The coverage of the report on the BBC News website and The Guardian’s blog include data from Amnesty that misleadingly implies that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has been responsible for several executions in 2010 – when all recorded instances of capital punishment were conducted by Hamas in Gaza.

Both the BBC’s ‘Amnesty International: Global death penalty trend falls’ and The Guardian’s ‘ Death penalty statistics, country by country’ include tables – citing Amnesty’s figures – that  refer to ‘The Palestinian Authority’ as one of the territories that has conducted executions in 2010. The term ‘Palestinian Authority’ is taken from Amnesty’s report and press materials, which use it as an all-encompassing descriptor for both of the Palestinian territories.

The first time the ‘Palestinian Authority’ is cited in the report, an endnote is attached to explain the fact that the organisation is really referring to Hamas. However, this clarification is not present in the press release and the term ‘Palestinian Authority’ is used another 10 times in the main report whereas Hamas is only named one more time.

Not only does this not adequately differentiate between actions in Gaza and the West Bank, given that they are ruled by rival groups, but it is also likely to mislead any casual reader as to who exactly is responsible for conducting these executions. For most readers, the term ‘Palestinian Authority’ is synonymous with the West Bank government of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, as opposed to the Hamas government in Gaza. Anyone reading Amnesty International’s online summary of the report would be left with the impression that not only does the PA in the West Bank conduct executions, but that the situation has deteriorated in recent years:

‘There were also setbacks in 2010, with six countries or territories carrying out executions after a gap (Bahrain, Belarus, Equatorial Guinea, the Palestinian Authority, Somalia and Taiwan), and one country (Gambia) expanding the scope of the death penalty.’

However, it is only on page 38 of the 60 page report that one learns that the PA’s behaviour has followed an opposite pattern:

‘No executions were carried out and no new death sentences were imposed by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in 2010.’

Indeed, this is the first time within the main text of the report that it is explained that it is Hamas that is solely responsible for all of the new executions and death sentences:

‘Five Palestinian men were executed by the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza during 2010, in the first executions to be carried out in either part of the Palestinian Authority since 2005. Two men, convicted in 2009 by military courts of “collaboration” with the Israeli military and involvement with murder, were executed in Gaza City on 15 April 2010. Three others, convicted of murder in separate cases prior to 2010, were executed in Gaza City on 18 May 2010. At least 11 new death sentences were imposed by military and criminal courts in Gaza in 2010.’

When Just Journalism contacted Amnesty International, a spokesperson said:

‘We decided to cite the PA as one entity even though we monitor two entities for the purpose of giving aggregate statistics. It can be confusing… Citing the Palestinian Authority as one entity is standard in Amnesty’s general publications.’

Amnesty International’s use of the term Palestinian Authority to describe the Palestinian Territories has therefore resulted in media coverage that offers cover to a Hamas regime which is not adequately held to account by a report designed to name and shame the practitioners of capital punishment.

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