On 23 July 2020, Al-Haq, in coordination with the Public Prosecutor’s office, visited nine Palestinian detainees who were arrested by the Palestinian Police for preparing to participate in a peaceful protest at Al-Manara roundabout in Ramallah, to highlight the state’s poor performance and degradation in the Palestinian economic situation. Al-Haq met with the detainees privately, who were detained in the Palestinian Police Center of Ramallah and Al-Bireh, and listened to the circumstances and conditions of their arrest, detention and appearance before the Public Prosecution and Magistrate Court in Ramallah.
The nine detainees, who used their personal social media accounts to call for a protest to be held on Sunday 19 July 2020, had been tracked and arrested by the Palestinian Police. According to the detainees’ affidavits to Al-Haq, each detainee was arrested separately, as they had not gathered in one place nor were they in small groups. Rather, they were tracked and deliberately arrested in a pre-arranged manner and with preceding intent. One of the detainees recalled to Al-Haq how he had received a phone call from security force personnel, who informed him that the peaceful protest will not be allowed, and that the protests would be suppressed and protestors arrested should they insist on carrying out the protest.
The detainees recalled to Al-Haq, that they were brought before the Public Prosecution and charged with illegal assembly even though the assembly had not taken place, a breach of the state of emergency and non-compliance with the declared preventive measures. While one of the detainees was released during Al-Haq’s visit, the Magistrate Court in Ramallah extended the detention of the remaining eight detainees for 15 days. Currently, all of the detainees are on hunger strike, which has resulted in the deterioration to health of two of the detainees, who have since been transferred to Military Health Services. One of them is still in the hospital, as his situation exacerbated.
According to the collected affidavits, Al-Haq documented that the sporadic arrests, entailed individual targeting of activists, for an assembly which had not taken place. Al-Haq stresses that such charging of detainees for illegal assembly and breach of the state of emergency is an exploitation of the unconstitutionally declared State of Emergency. As such, Al-Haq reasserts its previously expressed concerns, regarding the state of emergency, which it warns, may be used for purposes other than those for which it was declared.
Further, Al-Haq stresses that Ramallah’s Magistrate Court’s decision to extend the detention of the activists for 15 days, which is the maximum limit for detention in the first arrest request submitted by the Public Prosecution to the court, reinforces the practice of using provisional detention as punishment. Al-Haq’s documentation of arrests indicates that such types of arrest are widespread, and in breach of the right to freedom of opinion and expression on political grounds. Accordingly, Al-Haq warns that such arrests for the purpose of provisional detention impedes the object and purpose of provisional detention, when used as a tool to punish societal and political activists.
Al-Haq finds the continued detention of the activists on charges of illegal assembly and breaching the state of emergency contradicts the established facts, given they were arrested separately and without any assembly having taken place. Moreover, the conditions of detention are contrary to the objective of the unconstitutional state of emergency, as ten detainees are held in a room that does not exceed an area of 3 x 2 meters, and detainees are transported to appear before the Public Prosecution and court by a bus, where more than 20 people sit in close proximity to each other. Accordingly, the preventative safety standards, imposed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, have not been given due consideration. Thus, Al-Haq calls on the PA to release the eight activists currently detained, suspend the use of provisional detention as punishment, and to respect the rule of law guaranteeing the right to freedom of opinion and expression.