Human rights groups urge Israel to release virus-vulnerable Palestinian prisoners

HRW: “Israeli authorities should consider releasing detainees”
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Updated 17 April 2020

Human rights groups urge Israel to release virus-vulnerable Palestinian prisoners

  • “The conditions of prisoners are the top subject in our dialogue with the Israeli authorities,” says ICRC spokesman

AMMAN: International human rights groups have joined forces to demand that Israeli authorities release older and sick prisoners to avoid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country’s jails.

The appeal coincided with Palestinian Prisoners Day on April 17 when Palestinians remember friends and family being held in Israeli prisons.

Yehiya Masswadeh, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told Arab News that committee members were concerned about the dangers posed by COVID-19 to detained Palestinians, especially those with serious medical conditions.

“The conditions of prisoners are the top subject in our dialogue with the Israeli authorities,” he said.

Last month, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) sent letters to the ICRC and the diplomatic community in Palestine highlighting the rapidly deteriorating conditions of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli jails in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council “urgently requested” intervention over the health and safety of Palestinian prisoners, particularly minors, the vulnerable and chronically ill, and those held under administrative detention in contravention of international law.

Separately, six Israeli organizations have written to the ministries of public security, and justice calling for immediate action to reduce to a minimum the number of prisoners and detainees held in Israel in order to protect their health during the virus outbreak.

Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Israel-Palestine, who is now residing in Jordan after being deported by Israel, urged the release of vulnerable prisoners.

“Israeli authorities should consider releasing detainees, particularly those at high risk of suffering serious effects of COVID-19, ensure high-quality health care for those who remain detained, and aggressively guard against the threat of spread in places of detention.”

The New York-based Human Rights Watch organization had called for the early release of low-risk category detainees including those soon scheduled to be freed, those in pre-trial detention for nonviolent and lesser offenses, and others whose continued detention was unnecessary or unjustified.

“Detained individuals at high risk of suffering serious effects from the virus include older people and people with underlying health conditions,” said the HRW.

Hind Shraydeh, the wife of American-Palestinian scientist Ubai Aboudi who has been detained by Israel since October 2019, told Arab News that the Israeli authorities were not paying any attention to global or even US calls for the release of prisoners over the COVID-19 threat.

“The White House and the US State Department have called on the world community to release American citizens held in jails due to the pandemic, but Israel appears to have ignored the calls coming from Washington,” she said.

Sahar Francis, director of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, said that as of March this year, there were more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Israelis jam Jerusalem streets over bill to curb protests

Updated 56 min 23 sec ago

Israelis jam Jerusalem streets over bill to curb protests

  • A large convoy of cars clogged the streets surrounding the Knesset
  • The demonstrators have called on Netanyahu to resign

JERUSALEM: Hundreds of Israeli motorists protested in Jerusalem on Tuesday against a proposed measure to curtail public demonstrations during the current nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A large convoy of cars clogged the streets surrounding the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and scores of people also demonstrated in a square outside the building as lawmakers debated a measure that would effectively clamp down on the weekly protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his Jerusalem residence.
The demonstrations in central Jerusalem have drawn thousands each week for the past several months, the largest sustained protests against Netanyahu in nearly a decade. Many of the cars in Tuesday’s motorcade were festooned with Israeli or black flags, one of the symbols of the protest movement.
The Israeli government imposed a second countrywide lockdown ahead of the Jewish High Holidays earlier this month in a bid to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Protests have been permitted, but influential ultra-Orthodox lawmakers have fumed over restrictions on prayers while the mass demonstrations have kept up.
The demonstrators have called on Netanyahu to resign, saying he is unfit to serve while on trial for corruption charges and accusing him of bungling his management of the coronavirus crisis and economic damage it has caused.
Netanyahu has said the protests must end due to public health concerns. But protesters say he is using the crisis as a pretext to muzzle them.
Israel announced the lockdown earlier this month and tightened it last week in response to one of the world’s most severe coronavirus outbreaks. The measures have closed schools, malls, restaurants and hundreds of businesses.
The lockdown was initially slated to be lifted on Oct. 11, after the three-week autumn holiday season, but in a radio interview on Tuesday, Israel’s health minister said the nationwide shutdown would likely be extended.
“There is no scenario that in another 10 days we will lift everything and say ‘it’s all over, everything is ok,’” Yuli Edelstein told Israel Radio. He said the Health Ministry was prepared for the possibility of a surge in new cases, and that “reopening of the economy and our lives will be gradual and slow.”
Israel, a country of 9 million people, has recorded over 233,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,500 deaths from the novel coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to the Health Ministry. The ministry said Tuesday the country has for the first time surpassed the US, one of the world’s worst hit countries, in per capita daily coronavirus deaths.
While Israel garnered praise for its swift response to the arrival of the pandemic in the spring, the country reopened its economy too quickly in May and infections have skyrocketed since then.