(New York) - The 25-day detention by Hamas authorities of the journalist Paul Martin seriously violated his due process rights, Human Rights Watch said today. Martin was arrested on February 14, 2010, and was released today.
Martin's lawyer, Sharhabeel al-Zaeem, said that Hamas military prosecutors prevented him from seeing his client from February 19 to March 1 or from speaking privately with Martin at any point during his detention. At no time was Martin brought before a judge for an independent hearing on his detention.
"We are relieved at Martin's release, but we are also concerned that Hamas has produced no evidence to justify his detention," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "That a high profile, foreign journalist can suffer such unfair detention makes me wonder about the rights of lower-profile, Palestinian detainees caught in Hamas's military court system."
Hamas authorities informed al-Zaeem on February 16 that they had ordered Martin's detention on the suspicion that he was an enemy spy and had recruited others to spy - charges that carry the death penalty. The Hamas authorities failed to charge him with any crime during his detention, however, and did not present Martin or his lawyer with any evidence of reasonable grounds to justify his arrest.
A Hamas official stated upon Martin's release that Martin "tried to recruit a large number of translators and drivers to work for him" and investigated smuggling tunnels beneath Gaza's border with Egypt.
Neither of those activities is prohibited by the penal laws applied in Gaza. Martin says he went to Gaza in an attempt to testify on behalf of a detained former militant charged with spying and collaboration.
His arrest may send a chilling message to persons who might otherwise testify on behalf of defendants in trials conducted by the Hamas military judiciary, harming the chances of defendants to receive fair trials, Human Rights Watch said.