AMMAN: Nizar Banat, a vocal critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA), died on Thursday after security forces stormed his house and arrested him. Banat’s family said he was stripped and suffered a sustained beating during which he was hit with an object used to break a window. His death triggered angry protests in the occupied West Bank.
Banat, 43, was a human rights activist from Hebron, known for the videos he posted on Facebook in which he denounced alleged corruption in the PA.
Authorities in Hebron governorate said his “health deteriorated” when police arrived to arrest him early on Thursday. He was taken to hospital but pronounced dead, they added.
Banat’s cousin, Hussein Banat, told news agency Agence France-Presse that about 25 armed men burst into the activist’s house while he was sleeping and used pepper spray to subdue him.
“A large force entered and aggressively took off all of his clothes then beat him for eight minutes straight," he said.
Speaking to Al-Quds news website, Banat’s family accused security forces of “hitting him on the head with wooden sticks and bits of iron” and “deliberately murdering” him. They said he was bleeding as he was taken to a police vehicle.
The official cause of the death remains unclear and his relatives have yet to see his body, despite checking with all local hospitals. They said they will only accept the results of an investigation into the death if it is carried out by an independent coroner.
The EU said it was “shocked and saddened” by the incident and called for a “full, independent and transparent investigation.”
Following demands by the UN, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh ordered the formation of an investigation committee that includes the PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR). The commission said it will work with independent Palestinian rights group Al-Haq to conduct the inquiry.
In a message posted on Twitter, Al-Haq said it and the ICHR have, with the blessing of the Banat family, appointed a doctor to carry out an official autopsy.
Maj. Gen. Talal Dweikat, a spokesman for the Palestinian security forces, said the government is ready to implement any recommendations from the investigating committee.
The announcement of the inquiry did little to calm the anger among Palestinians about what they see as the latest example of the increasingly autocratic rule of President Mahmoud Abbas.
“Abbas, go,” protesters chanted as they held portraits of Banat. Security forces fired tear gas into the crowds; one person was hit in the face by a canister and hospitalized.
The Palestinian Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) described the assault and excessive use of force on Banat as “a flagrant violation of the human rights and dignity of Palestinian citizens and provisions of the Palestinian Basic Law.”
The organization also called for the investigative committee to “gain the approval of the victim’s family” and stressed the need to “publish the results of the inquiry with all due transparency to the Palestinian public.”
AMAN criticized the concentration of power in the hands of a single absolute authority and called for the immediate restoration of the right of Palestinian citizens to political participation by holding a general election.
Ahmad Budeiri, a journalist in Jerusalem, told Arab News that Banat was a carpenter by trade who had no interest other than improving the lives of the Palestinian people.
“He sought reform not violence, yet he was repeatedly beaten, he was arrested many times even though he never committed a crime, and he was threatened with assassination,” he said. “He loved the homeland and wanted the best for Palestine.”
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said it holds Abbas “fully responsible for the repercussions” of Banat’s death.