The Israeli Security Agency, Shin Bet is preventing as many as 90 per cent of Palestinian prisoners from consulting with an attorney, even though civilian and military legislation state clearly that such prohibition should be rarely applied, a study published recently reported.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society reported that the Shin Bet utilises interrogation methods that run contrary to both international law and Israeli laws, during prolonged periods when prisoners are kept from meeting with lawyers.
Dr Maya Rosenfeld, the author of the study, reported that among these interrogation methods are tying prisoners for a long time to a chair with their hands behind the back, sleep deprivation, threats (usually of harming family members), humiliation and being kept for long periods in unsanitary cells.
The Shin Bet has refused in the past to provide data on the numbers of prisoners who are prevented from meeting with a lawyer.
In the absence of official data, The Public Committee against Torture in Israel and the Palestinian Prisoners Society carried out research and cross-referenced their information with different sources in order to estimate the numbers of prisoners who are prevented from meeting with lawyers.
The authors estimate that out of 11,970 Palestinians the Shin Bet admits to interrogating between 2000 and 2007, the numbers of those whose right to an attorney was blocked ranged between 8,379 to 10,773.
Their report stressed that preventing a meeting with a lawyer for long periods of time enables illegal interrogation aimed at exhausting the prisoners and moving them to cells where undercover agents pretend to be regular prisoners.
The report mentions a number of cases in which after a prolonged interrogation, the physical and psychological exhaustion resulted in admissions of relatively minor violations which were carried out several years earlier and did not justify the violation of the prisoners’ rights.
Prisoner access to counsel is considered a basic right in Israeli law.
Preventing such access is considered out-of-bounds and the maximum period such prohibition can be in effect, in security-related cases, is 21 days.
In Israeli military law, the minimum time permissible is 15 days and the maximum is 90 days.
In a separate statement the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society condemned the isolation of prisoners.
It said: ‘The isolation policy applied by the departments of prisons of the occupation since 1967, takes three forms: solitary, short-term, extending between three days to several weeks, and the isolation of a collective.
‘Prisoners are held in a special section.
‘This has the primary objective of removal of the leaders of the prison from the rest of the prisoners.
‘Solitary confinement is the hardest and most difficult, where an isolated prisoner is in his cell alone or with another prisoner, prohibited from communicating with other prisoners for an indefinite period.
‘The practice of extending the duration of isolation every six months by the Court depends on the decisions of the Israeli intelligence services in accordance with the so-called secret file. Neither the prisoner nor his counsel can be acquainted with this, when with a representative of the intelligence service, they go before a court which represents the prison authorities.
‘Lying currently in the cells of solitary confinement are eleven prisoners and Palestinian women, some of whom have spent eight years in isolation, like prisoner Hassan Salamah, isolated since 2002, who call these cells “the graves neighbourhoods”.
‘Here they are removed completely from the outside world and the world of the inner prison, living in very small cells with an area of 2.5 metres by 1.5 metres, including bathroom and toilet and there is no place or room for movement within these cells.
‘The cells are characteristically isolation rooms lacking ventilation and with high humidity, where there is only a small window near the ceiling. They are filled with insects, odours, and various diseases due to lack of air and sunlight.
‘The isolated prisoner is only allowed out of his cell for one hour a day, and is restricted by being shackled during the exit to the prison compound, or to the clinic or to see a lawyer. The isolated prisoner is often subject to provocations.
‘When near wardens or criminal prisoners in many cases the isolated prisoners are subject to abuse, and sanctions are imposed on them for trivial reasons.
‘Not only do the occupation authorities isolate the prisoner, but he is subject to a series of sanctions and severe measures such as deprivation of the canteen, the denial of visits, university education and permission to have books and newspapers.
‘For example, the daughter of isolated prisoner Jamal Abu Al-Hija extracted permission from the military court to visit her father.
‘But the occupation authorities prevented her from going to prison, and this is also what happened with the son of the prisoner Ahmed Al-Maghrabi, aged seven years, after being authorised by the Israeli Supreme Court to visit his father.
‘The boy was refused by the prison administration, with the claim that the Palestinian child is a danger to the security of the State of Israel.
‘Isolated prisoners are continually subjected to inspections and raids under the pretexts of security, not only intended to humiliate the prisoner, but over time to create in him a state of anxiety and instability.
‘The Israeli Prison Service (IPS), must in the event of an extension of the period of isolation, go before an Israeli court to submit a detailed report on the health status and psychological state of an isolated prisoner.
‘But the Israeli Prison Service, which is already involved in the decision-making on the subject of extending the period of isolation of prisoners, ignores its legal obligations and does not conduct medical examinations of the isolated prisoner.
‘The medical report which is typically provided to the Court for an extension of segregation is a formality. It always wins approval for extending the isolation of the prisoner under the pretext that his health is good.
‘It omits the health effects of isolation and the serious psychological condition of isolated prisoners. Some even begin to lose control of themselves and hurt others due to symptoms of mental disorders and depression.’
The Palestinian Prisoners Society concludes: ‘The occupation authorities always make claims that the objectives of isolating prisoners is to maintain a captive and prevent damage to the safety of detainees and the protection of State security.
‘But it is clear that these goals are a cover for a policy of revenge and brutality aimed at humiliating the prisoner and destroying the psyche, to destroy and undermine his determination and take revenge against the backdrop of what he had done before his arrest.
‘The prison administration and the intelligence community isolate the leaders and activists in prisons who represent the state of struggle as they are symbols of the resistance; thus preventing them from communicating with the other prisoners, to curb their effectiveness in opposition to the management policy of the prison and its arbitrary actions.
‘It is clear from reading through the names of prisoners who have been removed, that the decision was political isolation by official bodies and the government of, amongst others, Marwan Barghouthi, for two years and the continuing isolation of Ahmed Saadat, and Ibrahim Hamed.
‘The government of Israel has a legal policy of solitary confinement, the only country in the world in which violations of the human rights of prisoners are prescribed by law.
‘The Israeli Prison Service Act of 1971, allows isolation of the prisoner under the pretext of security, so that it is a ‘legitimate’ means of isolation.
‘There was an amendment to this law in 2006, and it expanded criteria for detention of a detainee in isolation.
‘Not only have the occupation authorities to keep the legitimacy of isolating prisoners, but they have developed a law to legitimise isolation of Palestinian prisoners called “the law of Shalit”, approved by the Knesset.
‘The Israeli reading of the preliminary stage of the bill was on May 26 2010, which provides for tougher sanctions and actions against the detainees , including the failure to determine the period of isolation of prisoners in solitary confinement.
‘This is in addition to the prohibition of family visits and the denial of education and reading newspapers and watching TV, and others.’