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(Ismael Mohamad / United Press International)

Time running out for hunger striking footballer as rights groups demand urgent pressure on Israel

For the first time since their hunger strikes began, an independent doctor has been allowed to visit Mahmoud Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi in the Israeli jail where they are held, confirming the imminent danger to their lives.

After 80 and 56 days of hunger strike respectively, the critical situation prompted 12 human rights groups making up the Palestinian Council of Human Rights Organisations, and Physicians for Human Rights - Israel (PHR - Israel) to issue an urgent appeal today for international intervention to save the men.

Sarsak, once a star athlete now weighs a little over 100 pounds (51kg) and is close to death.

The groups emphasized the urgent need for both men to be transferred to civilian hospitals, something Israel has refused to do.

Sarsak has lost one third of his body weight

According to the statement:

the PHR-Israel doctor reported that Mahmoud [Sarsak] has experienced extreme loss of muscle tissue and drastic weight loss. He has lost 33 percent of his body weight, from an original weight of 76 kilos down to his present weight of 51 kilos. He also suffers from frequent incidents of fainting and loss of consciousness, in addition to lapses in memory. The doctor further reported that Mahmoud is in danger of pulse disruptions (arrhythmias) that are endangering his life.

As for Rikhawi,

the PHR-Israel doctor reported that Akram also already suffers from extreme loss of muscle tissue and drastic weight loss. His weight has decreased from 68 kilos to 50 kilos, which is a total loss of 26.5 percent. The PHR-Israel doctor determined that a combination of inflammation of prior chronic illnesses and the complications of hunger strike render hospitalization immediately necessary.

Mahmoud Sarsak, 25, is a member of the Palestinian national football team who was detained by Israeli forces nearly three years ago and held without charge, trial or judicial process. Rikhawi has been held in the Ramleh prison medical center since his arrest in 2004.

Urgent distress call

Days ago, Sarsak and Rikhawi issued an urgent plea from prison, that the local and international neglect of their struggle end.

“There is still enough time and the support that comes late is better than that which does not come at all. It is better that you receive us alive and victorious rather than as lifeless bodies in black bags,” the men said in a poignant appeal to people around the world to take action on their behalf.

And, Sarsak’s mother echoed her son’s appeal in video statement along with other members of his family.

World must act say groups

The groups signing today’s statement:

  • demand that all hunger strikers in advanced stages are moved immediately to civilian hospitals where they can receive the standard of care necessary;
  • call for immediate intervention for the IPS [Israel Prison Service] to provide all hunger strikers with unrestricted access to independent doctors;
  • demand that all hunger strikers are allowed family visits;
  • urge the Member States of the United Nations to urgently put pressure on Israel to end its policy of arbitrary detention and to abide by the standard rules for the treatment of prisoners adopted in 1955, which set out what is generally accepted as being decent principle and practice in the treatment of prisoners;
  • call on the European Parliament to activate the parliamentary fact-finding mission that includes members of its Subcommittee on Human Rights to investigate the conditions of detention of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons;
  • emphasise that the parliamentary fact-finding mission must include an investigation into Israel’s illegal practice of administrative detention and the use of the “Unlawful Combatant Law”;
  • urge Members of the European Parliament to bring the case of all three hunger strikers to the attention of relevant Israeli authorities without delay.

Media begin to notice

Finally, in recent days, the international media silence surrounding the ongoing hunger strikes has started to break. In recent days, social media users, especially on Twitter, have attempted to draw the attention of journalists and media to the hunger strikers’ cases.

On 5 June, Reuters published a report on Sarsak titled “Israel detention ends Gaza footballer’s dream” which focused on the young footballer’s family and football prowess:

“The entire family and friends are afraid for Mahmoud’s life and the worry is killing us,” said Sarsak’s older brother, Emad.

The 25-year-old is in an Israeli jail on secret charges that he is an “unlawful combatant” linked to the militant group Islamic Jihad, an allegation he denies.

Sarsak had joined the local football team in his Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip at 14, becoming the youngest footballer to play in the Palestine Liga A at the time. The midfielder attracted the attention of a German coach while playing for the Palestine national team in Norway.

“He always dreamed of playing outside the country, to represent Palestine through playing for an Arab or an international team, and he was talented enough,” Emad said.

The Guardian also carried a report about Sarsak: “Palestinian footballer’s hunger strike sparks fears for his life” and did CNN.

There has been virtually no international media reporting on Akram Rikhawi.

Solidarity

In the latest instances of international solidarity, the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) plans to hold a vigil in Dublin on Thursday, 7 July in solidarity with Sarsak, Rikhawi and Samer Baraq, a third prisoner who restarted his hunger strike two weeks ago after Israel reneged on an agreement to release him from administrative detention.

IPSC also issued a statement calling on

the Irish Government to intervene to save the lives of two Palestinian political prisoners, Mahmoud Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi who have been on hunger strike for 80 days and 55 days respectively. The IPSC also called on the Football Association of Ireland (FAI), the Irish Football Association (IFA), UEFA and FIFA to publicly raise the issue of Mr. Sarsak who is a member of the Palestinian national soccer team.

Supporters also held protests in London, and in Paris.

Full statement

Immediate action needed: independent doctor confirms current hunger strikers face imminent threats to their lives

6 June 2012
Joint Urgent Appeal

As organisations dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, the Palestinian Council of Human Rights Organizations (PCHRO) and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) are gravely concerned for the lives of three Palestinian prisoners that remain on hunger strike in Israeli prison. Today, Mahmoud Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi were visited by PHR-Israel’s independent doctor for the first time since they launched their hunger strikes.

Mahmoud Sarsak is currently on his 80th day of hunger strike, resulting in an imminent threat to his life. Despite the urgency of his condition, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has denied Mahmoud access to independent doctors from PHR-Israel until today. The IPS also refuses to transfer him to a civilian hospital for proper treatment. Following today’s visit, the PHR-Israel doctor reported that Mahmoud has experienced extreme loss of muscle tissue and drastic weight loss. He has lost 33 percent of his body weight, from an original weight of 76 kilos down to his present weight of 51 kilos. He also suffers from frequent incidents of fainting and loss of consciousness, in addition to lapses in memory. The doctor further reported that Mahmoud is in danger of pulse disruptions (arrhythmias) that are endangering his life.

Mahmoud, 25 years old and a member of the Palestinian national football team, has been detained for nearly three years under Israel’s “Unlawful Combatants Law,” which allows for Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to be detained for an unlimited amount of time without charge or trial. Those detained under the Statute have little or no legal protections, even less than those detained under administrative detention orders in the West Bank.

Also of utmost concern is the condition of Akram Rikhawi, currently on his 56th day of hunger strike. PHR-Israel has made numerous requests to gain access to Akram but all have been denied until today. Following today’s visit, the PHR-Israel doctor reported that Akram also already suffers from extreme loss of muscle tissue and drastic weight loss. His weight has decreased from 68 kilos to 50 kilos, which is a total loss of 26.5 percent. The PHR-Israel doctor determined that a combination of inflammation of prior chronic illnesses and the complications of hunger strike render hospitalization immediately necessary.

Akram has been held in the Ramleh prison medical center since his arrest in 2004, as he suffers from many different chronic conditions, including diabetes and asthma. Akram began his hunger strike on 12 April in protest against his request for early release not being granted despite his medical condition. Yesterday, 5 June, his appeal for an early release on medical grounds was rejected. The IPS doctors’ threats to force-feed and force-treat him, in addition to their determination not to recommend his medicalcondition as worthy of earlier release from prison, has led Akram to regard them with deep distrust. Thus, he often refuses to receive treatmentfor his chronic illnesses, or the complications they generate.

PHR-Israel’s independent doctor strongly recommended that both Mahmoud and Akram be immediately transferred to a hospital, as they are at immediate risk of death. These recommendations were given directly to the IPS doctor present with him during the visit. It should be emphasized that contrary to medical ethic and professional standards, the IPS refused the request of the independent doctor to go over the full medical files of both Mahmoud and Akram. He stated that according to the limited information accessible to him, the medical follow-up they have been receiving is insufficient both in frequency and scope.

A third Palestinian prisoner also remains on hunger strike. Samer Al-Barq, 38 years old, has been held in administrative detention, without charge or trial, since 11 July 2010. Samer is currently held in Ramleh prison medical center. Samer participated in the Palestinian prisoners’ mass hunger strike from 17 April until 14 May. He re-launched his hunger strike on 21 May in protest against the renewal of his administrative detention order in spite of an understanding in the agreement that ended the mass hunger strike, which implied that current administrative detainees would not have their orders renewed.

While administrative detention is allowed under international humanitarian law, it must be used only under exceptional circumstances as it infringes upon basic human rights, including the right to a fair trial. Indeed, the denial of a fair trial constitutes a ‘grave breach’ of the Fourth Geneva Convention, one of the most serious forms of war crimes. This form of arbitrary arrest also contravenes Articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, the European Parliament called on Israel in a September 2008 resolution to “guarantee that minimum standards on detention be respected, to bring to trial all detainees, [and] to put an end to the use of ‘administrative detention orders’.” The United Nations Human Rights Committee has stated several times that prolonged administrative detention is likely to result in the exposure of detainees to “torture, ill-treatment and other violations of human rights.”

Given the critical health condition of the hunger strikers and the fact that Mahmoud Sarsak and Akram Rikhawi face imminent death, the PCHRO and PHR-Israel:

  • demand that all hunger strikers in advanced stages are moved immediately to civilian hospitals where they can receive the standard of care necessary;
  • call for immediate intervention for the IPS to provide all hunger strikers with unrestricted access to independent doctors;
  • demand that all hunger strikers are allowed family visits;
  • urge the Member States of the United Nations to urgently put pressure on Israel to end its policy of arbitrary detention and to abide by the standard rules for the treatment of prisoners adopted in 1955, which set out what is generally accepted as being decent principle and practice in the treatment of prisoners;
  • call on the European Parliament to activate the parliamentary fact-finding mission that includes members of its Subcommittee on Human Rights to investigate the conditions of detention of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons;
  • emphasise that the parliamentary fact-finding mission must include an investigation into Israel’s illegal practice of administrative detention and the use of the “Unlawful Combatant Law”;
  • urge Members of the European Parliament to bring the case of all three hunger strikers to the attention of relevant Israeli authorities without delay. The Palestinian Council of Human Rights Organisations and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel:

Addameer Prisoners’ Support and Human Rights Association
Sahar Francis, General Director

Aldameer Association for Human Rights
Khalil Abu Shammala, General Director

Al-Haq
Shawan Jabarin, General Director

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
Issam Younis, General Director

Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights
Najwa Darwish, General Director

Defence for Children International - Palestine Section
Rifat Kassis, General Director

Ensan Center for Human Rights and Democracy
Shawqi Issa, General Director

Hurryyat - Centre for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights
Helmi Al-araj, General Director

Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights
Issam Aruri, General Director

Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies
Iyad Barghouti, General Director

Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling Maha Abu Dayyeh, General Director

Physicians for Human Rights - Israel Ran Cohen, Executive Director

Comments

Power to the Peaceful!

freedom for Palestine!

this is an outrage , as is the media silence .

Visto che in Italia pochissimi hanno parlato di questa storia spero che qualche altro italiano legga e condivida il mio appello. Qualsiasi persona, ripeto, qualsiasi persona, mai sottoposto a processo e mai accusato formalmente con prove non può essere incarcerata. Spero al più presto che Mahmoud Sarsak venga liberato e che venga "riconsegnato" a suo sport. Grazie

Since very few in Italy have talked about this story I hope that some other Italian read and share my appeal. Anyone, I repeat, anyone, never brought to trial and never formally charged with evidence can not be imprisoned. I hope soon that Mahmoud Sarsak be released and that is "returned" to his sport. thanks

(I hope that the translation is understandable)

aiutiamolo