Amnesty International Report 1998 - Palestinian Authority

(AREAS UNDER THE JURISDICTION OF THE) (This report covers the period January-December 1997) At least 400 suspected opponents of the Palestinian Authority were arrested; they included prisoners of conscience and possible prisoners of conscience. More than 115 political detainees arrested in previous years, including possible prisoners of conscience, remained in detention without charge or trial. At least one person "disappeared". Trials of detainees charged with political offences frequently failed to meet international fair trial standards; at least 30 people received grossly unfair trials before the State Security Court. Torture of detainees remained widespread. Seven detainees died in custody. Unlawful killings, including possible extrajudicial executions, continued to be reported. Seven people were sentenced to death; no one was executed and one death sentence was commuted. In January Israel withdrew from 80 per cent of Hebron, leaving the main towns in the West Bank, except East Jerusalem, under the sole jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. After suicide bombings by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two Islamist opposition groups, killed 24 people, including seven suicide bombers, the Israeli Government carried out large-scale arrests of Palestinians in areas partly or solely under Israeli control. The Israeli authorities imposed repeated border closures, preventing inhabitants of areas under the sole control of the Palestinian Authority from entering other areas (see Israel and the Occupied Territories entry).   The Basic Law, which passed its first reading in the Legislative Council in 1996 (see Amnesty International Report 1997), had not been approved by President Yasser Arafat by the end of the year. The Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights, set up by President Arafat in 1993, published a number of reports on human rights issues and stated in its annual report that human rights violations were still widespread but that the authorities and security forces showed greater willingness to respond to its inquiries. A new Attorney General, Fayez Abu Rahma, was appointed in July and promised to re-examine the files of 185 political detainees held since May 1994 and to release those who had not been involved in any criminal act. In August he ordered the release of 11 detainees held for up to two years without charge or trial. They were released the same day but were immediately rearrested by the Preventive Security Service (amn al-wiqa'i) (pss). All of the detainees remained held at the end of the year. At least 11 different security services continued to operate, although unpublished orders attempted to define more precisely their spheres of operation, giving the police force sole responsibility for interrogating common law suspects. However, the guidelines were frequently not implemented and families of those arrested frequently had difficulty in locating and gaining access to detained family members. Prisoners of conscience arrested during the year for peaceful opposition activities included Da'ud Kuttab, Head of the Modern Communications Centre at al-Quds University. He was arrested in May and held in Ramallah police station for one week, reportedly for televising Legislative Council debates concerning its Human Rights and Monitoring Committee's report on corruption. He was released without charge. Fathi Subuh, Assistant Professor of Education at al-Azhar University in Gaza, was arrested in July after setting an examination paper which contained questions relating to corruption in the Palestinian Authority and the university administration. While held by the pss in Tel al-Hawa' Prison in Gaza he was beaten and forced to sit in painful positions for long periods. He held a number of hunger-strikes, lasting up to 26 days. Fathi Subuh's lawyer brought a habeas corpus petition before the High Court in Gaza. The High Court repeatedly postponed the case before ruling in October that the case did not come under its jurisdiction, as it was before the State Security Court. The High Court failed to examine allegations that Fathi Subuh was tortured in detention. In discussions with an Amnesty International delegate, the head of the pss in Gaza did not deny the allegations of torture and stated that Fathi Subuh had been arrested on charges of "collaboration" and "illicit sex". In October Fathi Subuh collapsed in prison and was transferred to hospital. He was released on bail in November. At least 300 suspected supporters of Islamist opposition groups, including prisoners of conscience, were arrested by the Palestinian Authority following the suicide bombings in Israel in March, July and September. Those arrested in September included members of the Hizb al-Khalas, Salvation Party, a political party opposed to the peace process which does not advocate violence. Some reports of torture or ill-treatment of Hamas supporters were received; for instance nine suspected members of Hamas were allegedly tortured in Dhahariya detention centre. Most supporters of Islamic groups arrested during the year were released after several months' detention without charge or trial, but at least 140 arrested in 1997 and in previous years remained in prison at the end of the year. Shaykh Mahmud Muslah, a Hamas activist arrested in September and held without charge or trial, whose release was ordered by the Palestinian High Court in November after a test case, remained in prison. More than 115 other political detainees arrested in previous years remained in detention without charge or trial; some had no access to families or the outside world. They included Faruq Abu Hassan, detained incommunicado by the military intelligence (istikhbarat) in Gaza Central Prison since November 1994. Others detained throughout the year for political reasons included up to 100 people suspected of "collaboration" with Israel or selling land to Israelis, offences defined as treason. Two students from Bir Zeit University whose release had been ordered in August 1996 by the High Court of Justice, were eventually released in January (see Amnesty International Report 1997). There was at least one "disappearance". In July Shafiq Muhammad Hassan ‘Abd al-Wahhab, a former inspector for the Israeli Department of Land Administration, was summoned to the istikhbarat headquarters in Ramallah. When he failed to return, his wife visited all the branches of the Palestinian security services and submitted formal habeas corpus requests through her lawyer, but the security services did not admit holding him At least 30 Palestinians received grossly unfair trials before State Security Courts. Three members of the al-Bheisi family were sentenced to death and seven members of the same family given terms of imprisonment in a pre-dawn trial in March. The trial, for the murder of Isma‘il Hasuna, a pss officer accused by the al-Bheisi family of killing a relative alleged to have "collaborated" with Israel during the Palestinian intifada between 1987 and 1993, took place before the Gaza State Security Court less than 48 hours after the murder. The trial was closed to the public and the defendants were represented by state-appointed military lawyers and had no time to prepare their defence. Trials of political detainees before military courts also failed to respect international fair trial standards. Torture of detainees remained widespread, especially by the intelligence services (mukhabarat), the istikhbarat and the pss. Methods reported included beatings, sometimes while hanging by the wrists, and prolonged sleep deprivation while sitting or standing in painful positions. Seven detainees died in custody, including two who died in circumstances where torture was believed to be the cause of death. Yusef Mahmud al-Baba died in January, a month after his arrest by the istikhbarat in Nablus. His body showed severe burns, bruises and rope marks. Five people, including the head of the istikhbarat in Nablus and the deputy governor, were arrested in connection with his death. However, they were not brought to justice and it was not clear whether any of them remained detained at the end of the year. After the death of Yusef Mahmud al-Baba, orders not to use violence against detainees were reportedly issued to Palestinian security services. In June Nasser Radwan was arrested in Beit Hanun by Force 17, one of the 11 Palestinian security forces, and severely beaten. He was taken to hospital brain-dead and died a week later. Eight members of Force 17 were tried before a special military court on charges of "unintentionally killing" Nasser Radwan and so "inciting the masses to rebel" against the Palestinian Authority. In July, three days after the death of Nasser Radwan, three officers of Force 17, including a colonel, were sentenced to death and three others to up to five years' imprisonment, in a summary trial before a special military court. Two were acquitted. Two detainees, who had reportedly been tortured during detention, allegedly committed suicide. Torture after arrest and lack of medical treatment in prison may have hastened the deaths of three other detainees. No autopsy reports on these deaths were available to their families or to human rights organizations Torture of those accused of "collaboration" with Israel or selling land to Israelis appeared to be systematic. Muhammad Bakr, accused of "collaboration" with Israel and land-dealing, was arrested in June and beaten while hung by the wrists in detention centres in Qalqilya and Nablus. Torture or ill-treatment of criminal detainees appeared to be widespread in Gaza. Unlawful killings, including possible extrajudicial executions, continued to occur. Three land-dealers were found dead during May after the Minister of Justice, Freih Abu Middein, announced that the Palestinian Authority would begin applying a Jordanian law which provided for the death penalty for those convicted of selling land to Jews. There were fears that statements by the Minister of Justice and the failure to condemn the killings appeared to constitute permission to security services to carry out extrajudicial executions with impunity. In June the Palestinian Authority made a public statement supporting the death sentence for land-dealers but rejecting any killing without trial and conviction. The Palestinian Authority announced that it was setting up a commission to investigate the deaths, but no results had been made public by the end of the year Seven people were sentenced to death, mostly on charges of murder or unlawful homicide. No one was executed. In a trial of four defendants, three of whom were members of Force 17, Fawzi Sawalha, a member of Force 17, was sentenced to death plus 22 years' imprisonment by a military court in Nablus in August on charges of "terrorizing civilians under the orders of the Israeli intelligence service". The other defendants received sentences of between five years and life plus 15 years' imprisonment. The trial fell short of international fair trial standards. Defence lawyers were not allowed free access to their clients and all defendants stated that they had been tortured to make confessions. Fawzi Sawalha stated that he had been taken by the mukhabarat into an olive grove where he was hit with a hammer on his head and knees, subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation, forced to remain in contorted positions, and threatened with reprisals against his family. No investigations were ordered by the judge into these allegations. The sentence was upheld by the military cassation court in Gaza, but commuted to life imprisonment by the President in October. Amnesty International raised all its concerns, including torture, prolonged detention without trial and unfair trials, with members of the Palestinian Authority and heads of security forces. The organization also called for the death penalty to be abolished and all death sentences to be commuted. Amnesty International delegates made several visits to discuss issues of human rights protection and promotion with members of the Palestinian Authority and leading officers of Palestinian security services. Amnesty International continued to call on the usa and Israel not to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to arrest and detain people without recognizably criminal charges and fair trials.

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