Dr. ‘Awn al-Khasawna

Prime Minister

Amman

Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

 

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch urges you to set up an independent inquiry into the death of Najm al-Din Ahmad Ali ‘Azayiza (al-Zu’bi), a 20-year-old man from Ramtha, when in detention at the Military Intelligence offices in the Rashid Suburb area of Amman, on November 16, 2011.

The information made public about the official investigations conducted to date have fueled, rather than allayed, concerns about the treatment of ‘Azayiza before he died. To date, two medical forensic postmortem examinations have been carried out, the first on November 17, by a non-military team of doctors, including the minister of health, according to Gerasanews.com, a well-known news website, and a second on November 20, that included a family member of the deceased, who is a doctor. Both examinations concluded that ‘Azayiza had died of “strangulation.”

Human Rights Watch has spoken to seven persons claiming knowledge of some detail relating to the detention, death, and investigation into the death of ‘Azayiza, including his father, Ahmed, and brother, Fathi, and five other relatives and officials who preferred not to be named.

According to the family, ‘Azayiza, who worked as a private limousine driver, picked up Syrian passengers in Ramtha on November 14. His mother was with him when he received the request on his mobile phone. Several hours later, when family members tried to ring, they found that his mobile phone was switched off.  An anonymous caller informed the family soon thereafter that ‘Azayiza was being held at Military Intelligence offices in Amman’s Rashid Suburb area.

Calls by the father to a distant acquaintance who worked in Military Intelligence confirmed this. The brother, Fathi, went to Military Intelligence offices on November 16 at around 1 p.m., but guards there prohibited him from seeing ‘Azayiza, saying he “was in a meeting with the director,” according to Fathi.

Later that day, the father was summoned by a neighborhood elder, accompanied by an official, and told his son had committed suicide by hanging himself with a cord sown into his blanket at the Military Intelligence offices.

One person who claimed to have seen ‘Azayiza’s body around 7 p.m. of November 16, in Prince Hamza Hospital, said the body was already in rigor mortis. He told Human Rights Watch that the nose was bloodied and bruised, that the knees had abrasions, and that there were marks on the cheeks. Fathi, who was allowed to see only the face of his brother before burial over a week later, said there were some puncture marks on the ears and marks on the neck, cheek and the nose.

Neither forensic report was provided to the family, which had to rely on news reports and verbal assurances from the neighborhood elder, and officials in your meetings with the family, regarding its content. One person who read the second forensic report told Human Rights Watch that the report concluded that ‘Azayiza had died of strangulation and that the body bore no clear marks of torture’. The person remarked, however, that the report did not produce a plausible chain of events that led to the death by strangulation.

A form titled “notification of case of death ” and dated November 16, 2011, which was handed to the family in order to obtain a burial permit, describes the cause of death as strangulation by hanging . The place for “time of death” is left blank. Human Rights Watch has a copy of this notification.

‘Azayiza’s immediate family believes there is a strong possibility Najm al-Din was mistreated in detention and strangled by others. They say ‘Azayiza was in good health, having just passed a medical examination for entry into government security services.

The government has informed the family and the media that ‘Azayiza was stopped and then detained by Military Intelligence along with his two Syrian passengers on November 14 near Sahab, a town southeast of Amman, shortly after they had stopped there and picked up bags that officials claim contained weapons.

The office of the East Amman civilian prosecutor is conducting the investigation into ‘Azayiza’s death, according to media reports. (Ghazi Mirayat, “Al-Hadidi: Al-Zu’bi Died by Strangulation (الحديدي؛ الزعبي توفى شنقا),” Al-Ra’i, November 20, 2011).

It is not clear, however, whether a civilian prosecutor has investigative authority over Military Intelligence, a branch of Jordan’s military. The Military Code of Criminal Procedure  Law 34 of 2006 clearly assigns jurisdiction to the military prosecutor in “cases in which any of the persons against whom there is a complaint are military ” (art. 3), leaving little doubt that the military justice system has jurisdiction over the ‘Azayiza case. 

To date, we are not aware of any investigation being launched into the case by a military prosecutor.  Even if the military were to conduct an investigation, Human Rights Watch would continue to urge an independent inquiry since military justice in Jordan lacks the requisite measure of independence: for example, the joint chief of staff, the highest military officer below the king, has the power to decide whether to refer a case to court (Military Penal Code , art. 58). In addition, the Military Code of Criminal Procedure also empowers the joint chief of staff to ratify verdicts against military personnel before they can be enforced (art. 13).

Your Excellency, you have met with the family twice. King Abdullah has met with the father and close relatives of the deceased and promised a transparent investigation to reveal the truth.

However, crucial questions remain unanswered:

  • Who is leading the current investigation and will its findings be made public?
  • Why was the family not provided with copies of the forensic medical reports and will they be provided to them in the future?
  • What was the time of death?
  • Which witnesses have investigators interviewed? Do they include the two Syrians, the arresting officers, the interrogators and guards at Military Intelligence? If so, will the transcripts of their statements, or a summary of those statements, be made available?

The Istanbul Protocol, a UN-endorsed “manual on the effective investigation and documentation of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” issued in 2004, states that “asphyxiation” is sometimes used as a form of torture, one that “usually leaves no mark [but from which v]arious complications might develop, such as petechiae of the skin, nosebleeds, bleeding from the ears, congestion of the face” (Istanbul Protocol, para. 214).

The Istanbul Protocol lays out the guiding principles for investigating torture and ill-treatment in order to clarify the facts, establish responsibility, identify measures to prevent recurrence, and facilitate prosecution (Istanbul Protocol, para. 78). They include that the state must promptly investigate allegations, even where there is no formal complaint, that the investigating body must be independent of the suspected perpetrators or the agency they serve, and that the investigation results must be made public (Istanbul Protocol, para. 79). The investigators must be competent, have the necessary financial and technical means, as well as the legal authority to summon suspects and witnesses (Istanbul Protocol, paras. 79 and 80). Medical reports should be made available to representatives of the victim (Istanbul Protocol, para. 84).

An objective and impartial inquiry is of paramount importance. Steps to set up a special inquiry may be necessary in cases in which “involvement in torture by public officials is suspected, including possible orders for the use of torture by … senior military leaders or tolerance of torture by such individuals” (Istanbul Protocol, para. 85).  Triggers for such a special commission include situations “[w]here the victim was last seen unharmed in police custody or detention” and “[w]here persons in the State or associated with the State have attempted to obstruct or delay the investigation of the torture” or “[w]here public interest would be served by an independent inquiry.”

Your Excellency, given the outstanding questions, including the competence of the investigating authority, and given the keen public interest in the case following days of rioting in Ramtha, ‘Azayiza’s hometown, Human Rights Watch urges you to establish an independent inquiry, whose members should include representatives from the National Center for Human Rights, and that regularly reports to the family of the deceased and to the public.

 

Sincerely,

Christoph Wilcke

Senior Researcher

Human Rights Watch