Torture in Palestinian jails ‘systematic’

Palestinian Authority and Hamas both used threats, arbitrary arrests and violent abuse against detainees. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Torture in Palestinian jails ‘systematic’

  • Human Rights Watch said the “torture” done by both parties against detainees is “a crime against humanity”
  • Methods employed included beatings, electric shocks and stress positions

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian security forces “systematically” abuse and torture prisoners in what could amount to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.
The rival authorities of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas both used threats, arbitrary arrests and violent abuse against detainees, said the New York-based group.
The report is likely to put pressure on governments that fund the PA’s forces, including the United States, which has maintained security funding despite cutting aid to the Palestinians.
Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel-Palestine director, said the actions by both sides amounted to potential war crimes that could be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court.
“Both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas authorities in Gaza are systematically, arbitrarily detaining critics and torturing those in custody,” he told AFP.
“Systematic torture as part of a government policy is a crime against humanity.”
He said the allegations undermined Palestinian criticism of Israeli rights abuses.
“You have Palestinian leaders going around the world speaking about Palestinian rights at the same time as they are directing a machinery of oppression to crush dissent,” he told AFP.
The PA rejected the allegations, accusing Human Rights Watch of allying with the US government. Hamas did not respond.
The Palestinian territories have been split between rival administrations since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in a near civil war in 2007.
In its report, HRW said both sides particularly focused on those allegedly affiliated with the rival faction.
Methods employed by the Palestinian Authority included beatings, electric shocks and stress positions.
On one occasion PA security forces tied a cord around a detainee’s penis for eight hours, causing it to swell and turn blue, HRW said.
Sami Al-Sai, a journalist, was arrested in 2017 on suspicion of relations with Hamas.
The 39-year-old was beaten, had threats made about his family and hanged from a ceiling by handcuffs.
He eventually pleaded guilty to various charges including “creating sectarian strife” and was jailed for three months.
“Every day I expect that they will rearrest me, and torture me again, but they can’t do anything more than they did.”
In Gaza, Hamas also beat and systematically abused prisoners.
A Western diplomat said the report was alarming, without suggesting what action could be taken in response.
The United States under Donald Trump has cut around $500 million in aid to Palestinians this year, but continued to provide roughly $50 million a year for security coordination with Israel.
“It is noteworthy that at a time when the United States has cut funding for UNRWA, which provides vital health and education services to Palestinians and to hospitals in east Jerusalem, the only source of funding remaining is to security coordination (and) to security forces that are involved in really serious abuses,” Shakir said.
He called on Western states to temporarily suspend funding to the PA security forces.
Haitham Arar, head of human rights at the PA’s interior ministry, said the government “rejected everything in the Human Rights Watch report.”
“The report confuses politics and human rights and is consistent with the (US) Deal of the Century with the aim of weakening the PA,” Arar said, referring to Trump’s long-delayed peace plan that Palestinians fear will be biased toward Israel.
HRW said the report was the result of two years of research and nearly 150 interviews.


Powerful Algerian party abandons beleaguered Bouteflika

Updated 39 min 31 sec ago
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Powerful Algerian party abandons beleaguered Bouteflika

  • The National Rally for Democracy has joined ruling party officials, unions and business tycoons who have abandoned Abdelaziz Bouteflika
  • ‘The candidacy of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a new term was a big mistake’

ALGIERS: An influential Algerian party that was a long-time supporter of Abdelaziz Bouteflika has criticized the ailing president for seeking to stay in power, another setback for the ruling elite in the face of mass demonstrations.
The National Rally for Democracy (RND), a member of the ruling coalition, has joined ruling party officials, unions and business tycoons who have abandoned Bouteflika in recent days, after nearly a month of street demonstrations protests.
“The candidacy of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a new term was a big mistake,” RND spokesman Seddik Chihab told El Bilad TV.
“Extra constitutional forces have seized power in the past few years and ruled state affairs outside a legal framework.”
Bouteflika, who has ruled for 20 years, bowed to the protesters last week by reversing plans to stand for a fifth term. But he stopped short of stepping down and said he would stay in office until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his present term.
His moves have done nothing to halt demonstrations, which peaked on Friday with hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets of Algiers and have continued into this week.
RND leader Ahmed Ouyahia, a former prime minister who had close ties to intelligence agencies, has also switched sides. “The people’s demands should be met as soon as possible,” he told followers in a letter on Sunday.
Leaders have emerged from the protest movement, offering an alternative to Bouteflika’s political roadmap to what he says will be a new Algeria. But they have not built up enough momentum to force the president to quit or make more concessions.
The military, which wields enormous power from behind the scenes, has remained on the sidelines.
Another powerful figure, Bouteflika’s younger brother Said, has kept a low profile. The president has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke five years ago, and the protesters say a shadowy circle of aides, including Said, have been ruling the country in his name.
The protests continued on Tuesday, with students, university professors and health workers rallying in Algiers calling for Bouteflika to quit.
A new group headed by activists and opposition figures told the army not to interfere.
In the first direct public message to the generals from leaders emerging from the protests, the National Coordination for Change said the military should “play its constitutional role without interfering in the people’s choice.”