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A Failed Justice System: Torture and Ill-Treatment in Palestinian Prisons

Monday, 07 September 2015 08:23 - [24 - 30 August] - Ref.: 84/2015
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Al-haq-Danish-AwardAwrdOn 30 August 2015, Muhammad Ahmad Salah, 30, was released after 65 days of detention by Palestinian Intelligence. While in custody, Muhammad was subjected to ill-treatment, torture and psychological pressure at the hands of Palestinian Intelligence officers and detectives.

Timeline of Events

21 June 2015: Muhammad was detained on Sunday, 21 June by members of the Palestinian Intelligence from his work place in Tulkarem. He was taken to the Intelligence headquarters in the city; six hours later he was transferred to Al-Juneid Intelligence headquarters in Nablus. There, his hands were immediately tied to his back and he was blindfolded. He was then taken to a cell where his hands were untied. The cell was empty and had no ventilation. At midnight, Muhammad was taken into an interrogation room where he was forced to stand with his arms lifted while facing the wall (Shabeh position) and underwent interrogation for two hours. There were seven interrogators present who repeatedly ordered Muhammad to confess and "say what he has to say." Muhammad was taken back to the same cell where he was forced into the Shabeh position until the next day at approximately 2:00 pm. Officers were present in the cell monitoring Muhammad.

22 June 2015: At around 2:00 pm, Muhammad fell to the ground due to the prolonged hours of forced standing and exhaustion. A doctor was brought in, but did not provide any medical assistance and only sprayed Muhammad's face with water. He was taken back to the cell and was forced to remain standing. That evening, at around 9:00 pm, Muhammad was interrogated again. They accused him of planning attacks against Palestinian officials which he denied. After the interrogation, Muhammad was provided with a mattress and was allowed to sleep for approximately five hours.

23 June 2015: Muhammad was brought before the Prosecutor General in Nablus and his detention was extended for 48 hours. Again, he was accused of planning attacks against Palestinian officials which Muhammad once again denied. The Prosecutor General asked Muhammad if he was mistreated  while in detention, which Muhammad answered in the affirmative. No interrogations took place that day or the next. The officers, however, forced him to stay awake by yelling at him and banging on the cell's door.

25 June 2015: Muhammad was taken to the Magistrate Court in Nablus where he was brought before a judge who extended his detention for an additional 15 days. The Prosecutor General accused Muhammad of organizing armed militias, which he denied. There were five fully armed members of the Intelligence present in the courtroom. Muhammad was taken back to the cell where he was threatened to be beaten by the officers. In the evening, three officers removed the mattress from Muhammad's cell. They ordered him to stand on one foot and lift his arms, and blindfolded him. Muhammad was then beaten on his back and told to confess. Muhammad asked them to call an interrogator or officer in charge. When he removed his blindfold, Muhammad saw more officers entering the room, a totalling of seven. They blindfolded him again then beat him all over his body. Muhammad asked them not to strike his left shoulder due to previous injury, to which they responded by intensifying the strikes against it. Muhammad was forced again to stand on one foot with his arms up. The officers then used a rope to tie his left foot to his left arm, and then tied it around his neck. Muhammad fell on his face and was in extreme pain. They continued to beat him, and ordered him to stand up on one foot. Muhammad fell down each time he attempted to stand. This lasted for approximately four hours.

26 June 2015: Muhammad was taken to a medical centre. The officers asked the doctor to check Muhammad while he was standing so as not to allow him to lay down. The doctor injected Muhammad with a pain reliever and was then taken back to his cell. That night, at approximately 9:00 pm, Muhammad was interrogated again. He was questioned about the militia that he allegedly organized and its members. The interrogator threatened to shoot him if he not provide information. He was then taken back to the cell. Over the course of the following days, Muhammad was not interrogated but was prevented from sleeping regularly.

29 June 2015: At approximately 8:30 pm, two officers walked into Muhammad's cell and ordered him to stand facing the wall. One of them tied Muhammad’s hands to his back and then forced his body against the wall. Muhammad was forced to hold a pen between his forehead and the wall. The officers would beat him on his back and verbally assault him every time the pen fell.

30 June 2015: Muhammad was taken into the interrogation room where he was seated on a chair, had his hands tied to his back with metal chains, and his feet tied at the end of a metal bed. One of the officers sat on Muhammad's knees, and put a nylon bag in his mouth. He then struck the bottom of Muhammad’s feet three times. During the beating, an officer came into the room and told the interrogator that another man who was beaten using the same method had severely swollen feet. As a result, the beating against Muhammad ceased. He was taken into a larger cell with a bathroom where he remained until 5 July 2015 without any further incidents.

5 July 2015: Muhammad was transferred to prison in Bethlehem where he was interrogated for five hours without being subjected to ill-treatment. He was there for four days until he was taken back to Al-Juneid in Nablus on 9 July.

9 July 2015: Muhammad was brought before the Magistrate Court in Nablus. The judge extended his detention for an additional 15 days. That night, he was interrogated while forced into Shabeh position. He was blindfolded, his arms were tied behind his back then stretched and hung on a metal piece attached to the window. He remained in this position for about five hours. Afterwards, he was placed in solitary confinement until 23 July.

23 July 2015: Muhammad was taken to the Magistrate Court in Tulkarem where his detention was extended for an additional 15 days. He was immediately taken to prison in Bethlehem.

6 August 2015: Muhammad was brought back before the Magistrate Court in Tulkarem. The judge issued an order to release him on bail. He was taken to prison in Tulkarem and waited to be released; instead he was transferred to a prison in Bethlehem. Muhammad was detained there for six days, and then an additional 13 days in the Tulkarem Intelligence prison. Muhammad was finally released on 23 August. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 10953/2015)

Legal Analysis

Palestine's accession to key international treaties in 2014 had long been anticipated in order to set a standard to uphold international and domestic law for the realisation of Palestinian human rights. However, given the lack of political will to implement the provisions of these treaties and conventions, the human rights situation on the ground has evidently worsened since then.

The case of Muhammad Salah is not a unique incident of torture, but rather a recurring practice as documented by Al-Haq. The number of detainees enduring ill-treatment and torture has noticeably risen over the year. These cases have likely increased due to the lack of accountability of members of Palestinian security apparatuses that carry out such crimes. In a recent report, Al-Haq highlighted cases of arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and torture in Palestinian custody, which also included university students.

Under international human rights law, all persons deprived of their liberty must be treated with dignity, and be free from physical and psychological abuse. As a signatory to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the State of Palestine, embodied in its security apparatuses, must abide by its articles and provisions. Moreover, the Palestinian Basic Law states that the violation of personal freedom and other rights guaranteed by law is considered a crime to which the national authority should guarantee a remedy. According to Article 13 of the same law, detainees should receive proper treatment and no person should be subjected to any duress or torture.

The court order issued on 6 August 2015 to release Muhammad was not executed. Instead, he was detained for an additional 17 days. Article 106 of the Palestinian Basic Law stipulates that the obstruction of a judicial ruling is considered a crime, involving a penalty of imprisonment or dismissal from position for the accused public official.

Additionally, according to international human rights law, adequate medical care and access to health facilities should be provided for all detainees.

Further under international human rights law as well as Palestinian Law, individuals that have been subjected to an unlawful arrest or detention, or have been the victim of torture have the right to compensation. Al-Haq calls on relevant Palestinian institutions to investigate the torture and ill-treatment of Muhammad, and bring the perpetrators to justice. Al-Haq further calls on the Palestinian Authorities to ensure that both Palestinian laws and international laws are respected in the OPT.