Amnesty calls for releasing Palestinians held by Israel without charge

Human rights organization Amnesty International has reiterated its condemnation of the Israeli practice of detaining Palestinians without charge or trial, based on undisclosed evidence, after the administrative detention sentences of three high-profile prisoners were recently renewed.

Over the past two weeks, Israeli authorities extended the remand of university professor and intellectual Ahmad Qatamish, Palestinian circus performer Muhammad Abu Sakha, as well as Palestinian activist and journalist Hassan Safadi.

Amnesty International released a statement Friday denouncing the three-month administrative detention order issued against 67-year-old Qatamish, a “prisoner of conscience,” on June 13, after being held without charge or trial in Ofer prison since May 14.

The statement described Qatamish as an “outspoken critic of both Israeli and Palestinian authorities and the Oslo accords,” who has “called for a fundamental change in the political landscape and strategy of Palestinians, an end to the divisions between Hamas and the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank, and has highlighted the Palestinian population’s discontent with their leadership.”

“Most recently, he has spoken out strongly in support of the mass Palestinian prisoner hunger strike,” the group said, adding that “Amnesty International believes that he has been detained solely due to his non-violent political activities and writing and to deter activism by other Palestinians.”

Qatamish has spent more than eight years under separate stints of administrative detention, and was most recently released in December 2013.

His wife told told Amnesty International that as a result of his mistreatment and medical neglect in Israeli prisons, he sustained damages to his inner ear affecting his balance and has had recurring episodes of fainting and blackouts.

Amnesty International called on Israeli authorities “to ensure Ahmad Qatamish has prompt access to adequate healthcare and medical treatment, pending his release.”

In a statement Thursday, Amnesty also highlighted Safadi’s case, after his administrative detention was renewed for six additional months on June 11, after being held in Ktziot prison without charge following his detention on May 1, 2016.

The statement cited an attorney from Addameer as saying that, according to the court’s decision, it was the last time Safadi’s sentence would be renewed “unless there is new and important evidence against him.”

In the midst of his administrative detention, on Oct. 27, 2016, Safadi pled guilty to the charge of visiting an “enemy” country, as he was initially detained at the Allenby Bridge border crossing and interrogated for 40 days upon his return from a conference on justice and accountability in Lebanon.

After pleading guilty, he was sentenced the same day to three months and one day in prison, but instead of being released afterwards, he was forced to remain in custody under a new administrative detention order.

Amnesty international called on Israel authorities to “end their long-standing attacks on Palestinian human rights defenders and halt the harassment and intimidation of all human rights defenders, “and to “ensure a prompt, impartial investigation into (Safadi’s) allegations of torture and other ill-treatment.”

Meanwhile, Abu Sakha — whose administrative detention has previously been denounced by Amnesty International — saw his sentence renewed for three additional months on Friday, when 26 other Palestinians were sentenced with administrative detention.

Amnesty International said in December that it feared that Israeli authorities “are using administrative detention as a method of punishing Muhammad Faisal Abu Sakha without prosecuting him, which would amount to arbitrary detention.”

Abu Sakha has received global widespread support from artists, circus groups, human rights advocates, and Palestine organizers.

While Israeli authorities claim the withholding of evidence during administrative detention, which allows detention for three- to six-month renewable intervals, is essential for state security concerns, rights groups have instead claimed that the policy allows Israeli authorities to hold Palestinians for an indefinite period of time without showing any evidence that could justify their detentions.

Rights groups say that Israel’s administrative detention policy has also been used as an attempt to disrupt Palestinian political and social processes, notably targeting Palestinian politicians, activists, and journalists.

According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, 6,200 Palestinians were detained by Israel as of May, 490 of whom were held in administrative detention.