Assn for Civil Rights in Israel [ACRI] releases timeline of its long involvement in Prisoner X case

ACRI, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has released information of all of its efforts in 2010 and 2011, and in the past few days, to narrow the “gag order” concerning the detention of Prisoner X. Here is ACRI’s account, which is also posted on its website here:

    On 13 May, 2010, the Ynet website published an article about Prisoner X, who according the report was being held in solitary confinement in a cell at the Ayalon Prison. Shortly after the story broke, the article was removed from the website. Following this revelation, Dan Yakir, ACRI’s Chief Legal Counsel, wrote to the Attorney General and expressed concern about the article’s claim that a detainee was being held in isolation from the outside world in violation of his fundamental rights. He further noted that undisclosed detentions and secret trials contradict the basic tenets of a democratic country and damages the right of the public to know. The appeal to the Attorney General was made six months prior to the detainee’s death.

    Attorney Raz Nizri, who was then a senior assistant to the Attorney General (now the Deputy Attorney General), responded on July 13, 2010, explaining that a gag order had been applied to the affair by the Central District Court on March 4, 2010. It was evident from his letter that the media were not informed of the gag order at the time, but only two-and-a-half months later when Ynet published the story. A clarifying decision was issued over a month later, under which the gag order applied to the conditions of the detention, including details of the cell where the prisoner was being detained. The letter further clarified that the Attorney General and other relevant supervisory bodies were ensuring that all individual rights were being upheld according to the provisions of the law.

    The gag order was particularly broad: it included a prohibition against publishing the fact that a gag order had been issued, and even prohibited publishing information on the affair based on information gained from foreign sources.

    On December 15, 2010, Prisoner X was found dead in his cell.

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Announcement that two Palestinian teenagers from Awarta have been arrested for Itamar murders

The news was released yesterday — it had apparently been known among Israeli media circles, but was put under “gag orders” at the request of Israeli authorities: two Palestinian teenagers from the village of Awarta (near Nablus in the northern West Bank) have been arrested (on 5 and on 10 April) for the murders of five members of the Fogel family (Israeli Jews, including the couple and three of their children, one of them an infant), who were living in the nearby Itamar settlement.

Five other people were reportedly arrested as accessories to the crime.

The two teenagers are identified as being loyal to (if not actually belonging to) the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — meaning, most importantly, that they are NOT members of Hamas or any other Islamist group.

However, Israeli police and military sources have said that the two teenagers carried out this crime acting independently, on their own.

Israelis were almost uniformly convinced from the outset that the killers were Palestinian — based on previous experience, I was told.

There have been a number of deadly attacks in the past decade involving people from Awarta, from Itamar, and from the Israeli military forces.

The investigation took weeks, and involved the mass detention and collection of DNA samples of dozens and dozens of Palestinian residents of Awarta — including 100 women, at one point.

The DNA samples at the scene of the crime — which are being cited as part of the solid proof behind the just-announced arrests — should surely have indicated whether those who carried out the act were male or female (though it might not have clearly identified whether the perpetrators as Palestinian rather than any other ethnic group or race).

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Israeli Court orders Gaza Power Plant's Abu Sisi to stay in jail seven more days

Haarez’s Yossi Melman reported tonight that a Petah Tikvah court judge has ordered that Gaza Power Plant’s Deputy Director of Operations, Dirar Abu Sisi, to remain in jail another seven days (at least) — at the request of the Israeli General Security Service (Shin Bet – responsible for intelligence about internal security in Israel) and the Israeli Police.

Melman wrote that “The extension of Abu Sisi’s remand was made possible after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein granted the security service special permission to issue the request. Weinstein’s permission is necessary in any case of a request to extend the remand beyond 30 days”.

Melman added: “At the request of the Shin Bet security service and the State Prosecutor’s Office, a comprehensive gag order was issued at the time of Abu Sisi’s arrest, around a month ago. About 10 days ago the order was modified to permit the publication in Israel of details already reported in the foreign media”. Melman’s report in Haaretz can be read in full here.

The gag order was modified by the Petah Tikvah court in response to a petition from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

Abu Sisi was in Ukraine since 18 January in connection with his application for citizenship, filed by his wife, a Ukranian citizen. A month later, he was grabbed while on a train to Kiev, and flown to Israel by men he said identified themselves as agents of Mossad, Israel’s external spy service, He told an Israeli lawyer representing the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) that he was denied access to a lawyer for his first 14 days in Israel, and then for another 11 days.

No charges have yet been filed against Abu Sisi.

UPDATE: Richard Silverstein, who broke the story about Abu Sisi’s kidnapping/extradition from Ukraine to Israel, wrote here that Abu Sisi’s attorney, Smardar Ben Natan, told him that “The state came today with a request to extend the detention in additional 8 days, this was supported by an approval of the senior state attorney, Shay Nitzan, and with the explanation that the prosecution went through the evidence material and asked for 8 additional actions in order to complete the investigation. We argued that if the state does not have enough evidence after 34 days of interrogation, where they should have had evidence to justify the outrageous arrest even before [it occurred], Derar should be released and returned to Ukraine. They were trying to justify the arrest by making him confess [to their] accusations. The court allowed the detention until next Thursday. Derar looked very tired and complained that he can’t stand it anymore and that they are just repeating the same questions over and over again, and trying to break him”.

Silverstein himself asks: “So let’s say Dirar is the worst you can conceive. If you want to kidnap him and render him to Israel wouldn’t you have a case against him before doing so? In what kind of legal system do you arrest someone before having such a case built, and then attempt to figure out what to charge him with based on what he tells you during interrogation? And let’s say he tells you something new you didn’t know during interrogation. Surely, you can file a basic charge and then amplify it with what you learn later. The fact that they have refused to file any charge at all is outrageous. The fact that they come and demand an extension is equally outrageous”.

In a later post, here, Silverstein adds: “It’s unusual in the Israeli legal system for a security suspect to be held longer than 30 days without filing charges. They’ve had Abusisi for 34 days. After that amount of time they still have eight areas in which the top government lawyer says he needs better evidence to prosecute. What’s wrong with this picture? The attorney general has also told Shabak that there is a wide gap between the claims levelled against the kidnapped Gaza engineer and the evidence he’s seen. This does not sound like a happy prosecutor”.

UPDATE: Ben Natan, the attorney for Abu Sisi, told CNN that “I hope that he will be released after these eight days. I expect that after these days, the prosecution might present an indictment. We plan to argue against the future indictment saying that the circumstances of this person’s arrest give him the defense of abusive process,” his lawyer added.

She also told CNN that Abu Sisi “is very exhausted after what he has been through. He sees the interrogation as meant to break his spirit and make him confess things that he did not commit. He was not part of Hamas leadership. He was holding a civil position in the power plant of the Gaza strip and this interrogation is trying to portray him as something that he is not”.

The CNN report, published here, added that “just why the Palestinian engineer was being held and what charges the Israeli government intends to bring against him remain unclear. So far, not even his lawyers have been granted access to the results of his interrogation, they say. ‘We know about the suspicions only generally. The material from the interrogation is still not being disclosed to us and there is a gag order over that, too’, Ben-Natan said after the Gazan engineer appeared in court on Thursday…His lawyer also argued that should it emerge that Israeli intelligence abducted Abu Sisi from the Ukraine, they will have many questions to answer to as their acts will have been in contradiction of international law and treaties between the Ukraine and Israel. ‘There is an extradition convention between the Ukraine and Israel. The European extradition convention applies and both states are party to it and the procedure which was going on in this case was contrary to that convention and to international law’, said Ben-Natan”.

PCHR lawyer sees Gaza Power Plant's Dirar Abu Sisi in Ashkelon Prison

The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) reported today that a PCHR-retained lawyer met Derar Abu Sisi, the kidnapped Gaza Power Plant’s Director of Operations, yesterday for the first time in an Israeli prison in Ashkelon.

The PCHR said that Abu Sisi was kidnapped by Israel’s national intelligence agency, Mossad, on 18 or 19 February, while he was in the Ukraine — where his Ukrainian wife was applying for citizenship on his behalf. He was then brought to Israel.

This kidnapping, or rendition, is especially strange because AbuSisi apparently intended to leave Gaza anyway.

Abu Sisi told the PCHR lawyer that three men (two in uniform) grabbed him on train in he was taking to Kiev in Ukraine. He was bundled into a car and driven, handcuffed and hooded, to Kiev, where he was taken to an apartment and questioned by six more men who introduced themselves as Mossad.

In short order, Abu Sisi told PCHR’s lawyer, he was “put on a flight” that he said lasted 4 to 5 hours, then transferred to another 1-hour flight — and when it landed, he was told he was in Israel.

The PCHR account of its conversation with Abu Sisi is published on its website, here.

According to PCHR, “Abu Sisi told the PCHR lawyer that he was denied contact with a lawyer for fourteen days. This denial was extended for another eleven days. He said that he was placed under intensive interrogations and that he was denied his legal rights. It should be noted that the Israeli security authorities imposed a media blackout regarding the kidnapping of Abu Sisi and prevented lawyers from visiting him to check on his health and provide legal assistance during the second period … PCHR has concerns over the deterioration of Abu Sisi’s health and notes that he has cholelithiasis and he takes blood thinning medicines. He is experiencing serious psychological problems after going into long and continued investigation session”.

Eyad (Iyad) Alami, Director of PCHR’s Legal Aid Unit, reached Monday evening in Gaza by phone, said that an Israeli lawyer had gone to Askelon Prison on PCHR’s behalf (he noted that Abu Sisi might have seen other lawyers previously). Alami said he could not add anything at this time beyond what was contained in the PCHR statement — other than to say that Abu Sisi had not yet been charged with anything, and could now either be charged or released. In any case, Alami said, PCHR will be following the case.

The Israeli media reported yesterday that a court order had partly removed a gag order banning publication of information on this case. The remainder of the gag order remains for another 30 days…

UPDATE: The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) was the Israeli human rights organization which went to court to get the gag order lifted. Ronit Sela, ACRI spokesperson, said that their petition was filed on 9 March, some 13 days before the Judge ordered the partial lifting of the gag order — but, she noted, the Judge’s order does not even mention Dirar Abu Sisi by name, but instead refers to him only as “the suspect”. Sela said that ACRI has not been in touch with Abu Sisi personally, and that the appeal to the court is a principled action ACRI takes whenever it learns of a gag order, to ensure that a person does not simply disappear. A former reporter herself, Sela says that journalists usually become aware of gag orders only by the absence of mention in the Israeli press about something or someone (this would necessarily also involve some kind of tip, or tip-off). “I’ve been at ACRI for three years, and in that time we’ve handled at least four cases”, Sela said…

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