(Jerusalem) – Israel’s military should stop harassing members of Addameer, a rights group that provides legal services and advocates for the rights of Palestinians in detention. The Israeli military has imposed severe restrictions and penalties on Addameer’s staff, either without even alleging any violent activity, or without due process.
Most recently, on October 21, 2013, the military prosecutor ordered a four-month administrative detention for an accountant working with the group. Israeli authorities had arrested the accountant, Samer al-Arbin, in September and held him in investigative detention for more than three weeks without charge before ordering his administrative detention. Administrative detention allows the authorities to hold him without charging him or revealing any evidence against him.
“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,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “The military should stop harassing Addameer’s employees on the basis of vague or secret evidence.”
In September, the military arrested and charged a defense lawyer working with the group, Anas Barghouthi, with membership in a banned political organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), mainly on the basis of evidence about his role organizing nonviolent demonstrations more than one year ago. Based on the charge sheet, he was not accused of any violent activity. He denies the charges. The military also renewed a travel ban against Addameer’s chairman, Abdulatif Ghaith, preventing him from traveling from his home in East Jerusalem to his office in the West Bank, on the basis that he presents a “security risk,” but has not presented any evidence to support that claim.
Addameer provides legal aid to detainees held by Israeli authorities as well as by the Palestinian Authority, conducts research and advocacy on prisoners’ rights issues, and trains prisoners and lawyers on applicable international law.
Israeli forces raided Addameer’s offices in December 2012 and seized equipment and documents, including the files of lawyers representing prisoners. Since the military has failed to provide any justification for the raid or the seizure of the equipment and documents, it should immediately return the material and compensate Addameer and the other organizations affected, Human Rights Watch said.
The Israeli military arrested a fieldworker with the group, Ayman Nasser, in October 2012, accusing him of participating in demonstrations by the PFLP but not of any violent activity. He was convicted of membership in the group and is serving a 13-month prison term. He was denied access to a lawyer and alleged that he was questioned for up to 20 hours at a time, with his hands shackled painfully behind his back, during a prolonged, 39-day interrogation.
Israeli forces arrested Barghouthi, 30, the defense lawyer, on September 15, while he was driving toward the “Container” checkpoint between the West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah. His mother, who was also in the car, told Human Rights Watch that soldiers approached the vehicle as it neared the checkpoint, handcuffed Barghouthi, removed him from the car, and took the car keys and the identification documents of the other passengers.
“The soldiers were running toward the car saying, ‘That’s him!’ in Hebrew,” she said. “There was a six-year-old girl traveling with us. They took Anas out, but kept the rest of us in the car for two-and-a-half hours until they let us go.”
The Israeli military prosecutor charged Barghouthi on September 17 with “membership” and “holding a post or position” in an “unlawful association” under articles 85(a)(1) and (2) of the 1945 Defense (Emergency) Regulations, as incorporated into Israeli military law. According to the charge sheet, in May and August 2012, Barghouthi asked another man to “bring kaffiyehs [men’s headdresses] and t-shirts from the Workers’ Union,” which the military considers to be part of the PFLP, to a demonstration in Ramallah; wrote and prepared slogans and posters for the demonstration; contributed money for these activities; and met and discussed such PFLP activities. The alleged activities involved a nonviolent demonstration inside a Palestinian population center, which did not approach Israeli settlers or security forces.
At a hearing at the Israeli Ofer military court on October 22, a military judge agreed to release Barghouthi on 12,000 shekels (US $3,400) bail during trial proceedings against him because the evidence against him consisted of statements from other detainees about alleged activities that occurred more than a year ago, and did not prove his identity or that he is a security threat. The prosecution did not appeal the release order.
Barghouthi has no prior convictions. Officials from Israel’s security service, the Shin Bet, questioned Barghouthi twice in 2009, but each time released him the same day, his mother said. In one instance, he was questioned after officials at the Israeli-controlled Allenby border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan barred him from traveling into Jordan. He had planned to travel on to Qatar, where he was to visit his then-fiancée.
“The Israelis wouldn’t let her travel to the West Bank because she didn’t have a residency permit, and he couldn’t travel to her,” Barghouthi’s mother said. Barghouthi and his fiancée broke off the engagement.
Israeli forces arrested Addameer’s accountant, al-Arbin, 36, a resident of Ramallah, on September 23 and held him in “interrogative detention” at the Moscobiyeh or Russian Compound detention facility in Jerusalem. Israeli military law allows for interrogators to question a suspect for up to 90 days without charge.
On October 21, an Israeli military court issued an “administrative detention” order against al-Arbin. Under military laws, administrative detainees are not charged or informed of the reason for their detention, and they are rarely allowed to see or challenge any evidence against them. Israel’s position is that such secrecy is necessary to protect the security of Palestinian informants who provide the information that is the basis of the detention.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has rejected that justification, and held in 1994, for instance, that “Individual liberty cannot be sacrificed for the [Israeli] Government's inability either to collect evidence or to present it in an appropriate form.”In 2010, UN Committee on Human Rights, which monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, concluded that Israel’s practice of administrative detention “infringes detainees’ rights to a fair trial” and called on Israel to inform detainees “immediately” of the charges against them, “provide them with information to prepare their defense,” among other significant reforms.
Israeli forces first arrested al-Arbin in January 2003, and a military court sentenced him to 40 months in prison for membership in the PFLP. A military appeals court reduced the sentence to 30 months, an Addameer spokesperson told Human Rights Watch. Two months before the end of his sentence, a military court ordered al-Arbin to be held in “administrative detention” for an additional four months.
Military courts renewed al-Arbin’s administrative detention twice, for a total of 10 months, before his release in 2006. Israeli forces arrested al-Arbin again in March 2007 and held him in administrative detention until August 2008.
The military renewed the travel ban against Addameer chairman Ghaith on September 11, keeping him from traveling from his home in East Jerusalem, which Israel considers to be part of its territory, to the rest of the West Bank, where Addameer’s office is located. The ban expires in March 2014. The military first imposed the ban on72-year-old Ghaith in 2011, saying it was necessary to maintain security and public order in the West Bank.
Israel’s Interior Ministry also banned Ghaith from traveling abroad for six months in 2012 and 2013 on the basis that he constituted a threat to “state security.” That ban was not renewed. Neither the military nor the Interior Ministry has published any evidence to support their claims against Ghaith.
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.
The PFLP, a left-wing political faction that forms part of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has advocated “armed struggle” for the “liberation of Palestine.” Its armed wing claimed responsibility for attacks that killed Israeli civilians, most recently in 2004. In 2001 the PFLP claimed responsibility for killing the Israeli tourism minister, in reprisal for Israeli forces’ killing of the PFLP leader.
“The Israeli authorities should let Addameer’s employees get on with their human rights work, not turn them into victims of arbitrary abuses themselves,” Stork said.