(Jerusalem) – Israeli authorities should stop harassing members of a Palestinian prisoners’ rights group. Israeli authorities should immediately lift a travel ban on the group’s chairman and release a recently arrested researcher, or present evidence justifying the measures against them.
In August and September 2012, Israeli authorities issued orders prohibiting Abdullatif Ghaith, chairman of the board of the group, Addameer, from traveling abroad as well as from East Jerusalem, where he lives, to the rest of the West Bank, where the organization’s offices are located. On October 15, Israeli forces raided the West Bank home of Ayman Nasser, a researcher for the group, arrested him and questioned him about radio interviews he gave about prisoners and his membership in a youth organization. At military court hearings on October 18 and 24, military judges extended his detention on the basis of evidence he was not allowed to see. The Israeli military has not charged either man with wrongdoing or allowed them to see any evidence against them.
“It’s deeply ironic that Israel is arbitrarily detaining a researcher who has documented arbitrary detention, and violating the rights of the head of a human rights group,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Israel should provide valid justifications for its measures against Nasser and Ghaith or drop those measures immediately.”
Ghaith, 71, co-founded Addameer and served on its board for 20 years, the group said in a statement. On August 3, Ghaith responded to a summons to appear at the “Moskobiyya” detention facility in Jerusalem. Israeli security officials there handed him an order signed by the Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, prohibiting his travel abroad for six months because he was an unspecified “state security” threat.
On September 15, the Israeli military issued an order signed by the head of its central command, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, barring Ghaith from entering the rest of the West Bank from East Jerusalem for six months for unspecified “security” reasons. The military has barred Ghaith under previous orders from entering the West Bank since October 2011. According to Addameer, Israeli authorities have repeatedly detained Ghaith without charge or trial under “administrative detention” orders, most recently from June 2004 to January 2005.
Israeli forces raided the home of Nasser, 42, in the village of Saffa, near Ramallah, at 1 a.m. on October 15, 2012, his wife, Um Ameen, told Human Rights Watch:
There were at least five military vehicles and many soldiers. They came and banged on the door and were screaming, “IDF, open up!” My husband jumped out of bed and was at the door by the third knock, still in his bedclothes. They rushed in with many dogs and told Ayman he was wanted for security reasons. I had hardly finished getting dressed when two of the soldiers entered my room and guarded me with their guns. I told them my children were sleeping, and they kept quiet; there was no violence or cursing, but I was very scared the dogs would attack the children if they woke up. They let Ayman have five minutes to say good-bye to me. He told me to call his lawyer. I have no idea why he was arrested. Our youngest son woke up in the middle of the night asking where his father was.
A spokesperson at Addameer said that Israeli forces had confiscated computers and Nasser’s mobile phone during the arrest.
Mahmoud Hassan, who also works for Addameer, met with Nasser in the Jerusalem detention facility on the afternoon of October 16. Hassan told Human Rights Watch that Nasser said Israeli security personnel had questioned him about an interview he had given earlier in 2012 to Ajyal radio, a Palestinian station, about Palestinian prisoners who had gone on hunger strike to protest administrative detention and ill-treatment. Hassan and other Addameer staff were not aware of which interview the questioning focused on, but said that Nasser participated in three 45-minute radio programs that Addameer produced for Ajyal in 2012, and that the radio station frequently called Nasser for phone interviews.
The interrogators also “said they knew he was meeting with the families of prisoners, and they questioned him about a youth center in his village, called Handala, that’s registered with the Palestinian Authority,” Hassan said. “But [the interrogators] didn’t tell him what he did that they think is a violation.”
Addameer said Nasser is the chairman of the Handala center, which holds educational activities and artistic events in Saffa. Nasser said in the military court appearance on October 18 that the center’s activities are transparent. He also told the court that he had been interrogated for several hours each day on October 15 and 16, and for 10 hours on October 17, and that at times the officials had blindfolded him and shackled his hands behind his back during questioning. He said that he was suffering pain during the interrogations due to back problems, and that the pain was exacerbated because officials at the detention facility had not allowed him to receive three of the five medicines he normally takes daily, including medication for his back pain. In a second military court hearing on October 24, a military judge renewed his detention for another nine days.
The Israeli military previously sentenced Nasser to six years in prison, from February 1991 to October 1997. Despite inquiries, Human Rights Watch was unable to obtain information about the charges from more than two decades ago.
According to international human rights standards, everyone has the basic right to leave any country. Any restrictions on such travel should be issued only in exceptional circumstances, for reasons stated clearly and publicly, and be open to legal challenge, including the evidence supporting it, in a timely and open process. Any restriction must be proportional – the least restrictive in terms of scope and time – and imposed for a legitimate reason. The refusal of the Israeli authorities to make public any evidence to substantiate the reasons for the travel ban against Ghaith means that he has been denied a meaningful opportunity to challenge the ban in court, Human Rights Watch said.
Israel’s arrest, detention, and interrogation of Nasser violate his due process rights, Human Rights Watch said. Israel’s international legal obligations require it to inform those arrested at the time of arrest of the reasons, to promptly inform them of any charges against them, and promptly to bring them before a judge. In criminal cases, authorities are required to provide a fair and public trial in which the defendant may challenge any witnesses against him or her.