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27 Oct, 2013 16:00

HRW lashes out at Israeli 'harassment' of Palestinian prisoner advocacy group

HRW lashes out at Israeli 'harassment' of Palestinian prisoner advocacy group

Human Rights Watch has called on the Israeli military to stop harassing Addammeer, an advocacy group for Palestinian prisoners. The NGO has complained about the military targeting the group and imposing restrictions on it without evidence.

Addameer’s main functions are to provide legal aid to prisoners held by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, conduct research and empower prisoners and their lawyers with knowledge in international law. But the organization is being routinely prosecuted for its stance without much substantiation of claims, HRW reported.

Following a whole string of such cases, Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy director for the Middle East, said that “the Israeli military’s apparent persecution of a prisoners rights group, especially without allowing the individuals to defend themselves, is a prime example of the injustices the group seeks to counter… The military should stop harassing Addameer’s employees on the basis of vague or secret evidence.”

The most recent incident, as reported by the watchdog, took place Oct. 21 and involved the military prosecutor ordering four months of detention for an accountant with the group. He was arrested in September and held without charge for three weeks. Administrative detention gave the Israelis the right to hold Samer al-Arbin without charge or disclosure of evidence.

Families of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails hold their portraits during a demonstration, demanding their release, Gaza City (AFP Photo / Said Khatib)

In September, the Israeli military arrested someone else connected with Addameer – a lawyer they charged with being a member of a banned organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The left-wing faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization advocates “armed struggle” to achieve its goal. The lawyer, Anas Barghouthi, allegedly took part in organizing a non-violent rally more than a year ago. He was not accused of any violence, however, and denies the charges.

Another case involved Ayman Nasser, an Addammeer fieldworker who in October was also accused of PFLP affiliation, following a series of violent demonstrations. However, he was not proven to have played any role in the violence. He is now serving 13 months in prison, while being denied access to a lawyer. He also claims he was questioned for 20 hours a session. The interrogation lasted for 39 days and saw Nasser shackled painfully throughout the ordeal.

Addemeer chairman Abdulatif Ghaith also did not escape Israeli attention either. The military restricted him from travelling from his home in East Jerusalem to his office in the West Bank. They said he posed a “security risk”, but again no evidence was provided.

HRW noted that in December 2012, the Israeli armed forces carried out a seizure of Addameer’s equipment and documents during an as yet unjustified raid. The watchdog has insisted on the military returning all the materials and compensating the advocacy group and others affected by the action.

Administrative detainees are not charged, provided with evidence or even allowed to question the justification for their arrest or interrogations. Israel claims this is necessary for the safety of Palestinian informants who are the real source behind the information that eventually leads to such detentions.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention opposes such justifications; in 1994 it stated that “Individual liberty cannot be sacrificed for the government’s inability either to collect evidence or to present it in an appropriate form.”

This opinion was upheld by the UN Committee on Human Rights in 2010, whose job it is to supervise state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee stated that the aforementioned detentions “infringe detainees’ rights to a fair trial.” It called, among other things, for detainees to immediately be notified what they are charged with and “provide them with information to prepare their defense.”

Human Rights Watch insists that “Israel is obliged to respect the right to freedom of association, including in the occupied Palestinian territory. Under international law, governments should generally not criminalize merely supporting or participating in nonviolent political activities.”

Stork added that Addammeer’s employees should no longer be harassed and be allowed to “get on with their human rights work” and not be turned “into victims of arbitrary abuses themselves.”