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Extrajudicial measures under the spotlight in Palestine

A special security committee, set up in 2015 by then-Interior Minister Rami Hamdallah, and a prison in Jericho that allegedly operates outside the judiciary’s supervision have come under scrutiny in recent weeks.

Jawad Obeidat, chairman of the Palestinian Bar Association (PBA), referenced the committee and the prison during a Nov. 9 demonstration by lawyers, judges and staff of the attorney general’s office in Ramallah. The demonstration was called to protest the arrest of Mohammad Hussein, a lawyer from the village of Deir al-Hatab, in a Nablus court the preceding day. Addressing his fellow jurists, Obeidat called on President Mahmoud Abbas to dismiss Hamdallah from his current post of prime minister for acting outside the law.

For the lawyers, judges and staff of the attorney general’s office, Hussein’s arrest was an extrajudicial act that violates the sanctity of the courts. The PBA therefore called for the demonstration the next day and suspended all cooperation with the Palestinian government until their colleague is released.

On Nov. 8 in the Magistrate Court in Nablus, security officers in civilian clothing violently arrested Hussein and took him to the controversial Jericho prison. He was released Nov. 10, on orders from Hamdallah, who also appointed a committee to investigate the incident.

Saudi-based Arab News on Nov. 11 quoted Azzam Hashlamon, legal adviser to the minister of Jerusalem affairs, as saying that video evidence demonstrates that the arrest took place inside the courthouse. “This is a clear violation of the independence of the judiciary and the principles of the rule of law,” he said.

Majed Arouri, a specialist in Palestinian law, told Al-Monitor that the Jericho prison had been set up to deal with armed individuals acting outside the law in the Balata refugee camp. “It was set up in 2015, following repeated problems by armed individuals in the camp, but has continued to operate since then under the direct control of the Ministry of Interior. Individuals held in this prison have made complaints of abuse and torture,” Arouri told Al-Monitor.

Meanwhile, in a letter dated Oct. 22, Nael al-Hooh, vice chairman of the PBA, had addressed Abbas, demanding that he dissolve the security committee. “In compliance with the rule of law, we call on you to disband this committee and all the prisons and detention centers connected to it, in accordance with the laws of the State of Palestine.”

Shawan Jabarin, director general of the human rights organization al-Haq, said in a Nov. 8 interview with 24 FM radio station that the extrajudicial prison has facilitated arbitrary arrests and the circumvention of legal procedures. “Crimes are being committed in the security committee’s Jericho prison, especially torture and abuse of prisoners,” Jabarin asserted. “These repeated offences must end. The idea that a person is held there in the name of the local governor is illegal, and there is no legal text that supports it.”

Mohammed Mansour, undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior, insists that what happened in the Nablus courthouse was a one-time mistake. Speaking at length on 24 FM on Nov. 13, Mansour said problems had begun when during a demonstration in Deir al-Hatab, rioters, including Hussein, destroyed $28,000 worth of public property.

“The lawyer had lost a case in the Palestinian Supreme Court [involving] a $55 million sewage treatment plant funded by Germany, which villagers don’t want built in their village,” Mansour said. “Arrest warrants were issued against the protest leaders and the lawyer. The protest leaders turned themselves in voluntarily, while the lawyer waited 48 hours and was escorted to the attorney general’s office, which decided not to detain him.”

Hussein’s appearance had been in response to his having been summoned. An agreement between the government and the PBA includes a provision that the association must be informed whenever one of its members is summoned by the police for questioning. It was an hour after leaving the attorney general’s office that security agents seized Hussein in court.

Mansour told 24 FM that after Hamdallah intervened, he personally went to Jericho on Nov. 10 to make sure the lawyer was released and drove him home to his village. According to Mansour, all those arrested have since been released.

Regarding the controversial committee, Mansour told the Ramallah-based radio station that the security committee does not act outside the law. “It is simply a security coordinating committee ensuring speedy results regarding security matters,” he said.

The Palestinian jurists’ protest has not only resulted in the release of the arrested lawyer, but also in shedding light on the executive branch of government’s interference in judicial affairs. Such actions impede the independence of the judiciary and pave the way for the creation of unsupervised detention centers, where there is a greater possibility that prisoners will be subject to torture and abuse.

*Photo of Minister of Interior Rami Hamdallah, photo credit: Alhadath newspaper, 2017.

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