Life of Akram Rikhawi, father of 8, in grave danger after 85 days of hunger strike

Demonstrators in the West Bank city of Nablus hold posters in solidarity with hunger striking prisoners Samer al-Barq (center) and Akram Rikhawi (right), 18 June.

Nedal Eshtayah APA images

The life of Akram Rikhawi is in grave danger 85 days into his hunger strike, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) and the Palestinian human rights and prisoner advocacy group Addameer warned today.

Meanwhile, two other Palestinian political prisonersSamer al-Barq and Hassan Safadi — are well into their open-ended hunger strikes. The two restarted their strikes after Israel renewed orders to hold them without charge or trial (a widely condemned practice known as administrative detention) — in violation of the agreement ending the mass hunger strike undertaken by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners earlier this year.

Rikhawi held in isolation, having difficulty standing

An independent doctor from PHR-I was finally able to visit Akram Rikhawi yesterday after an appeal to an Israeli court — Rikhawi has gone nearly a month without a visit by a doctor independent of Israel’s military and prison system. The last visit was on 6 June and recommendations made by the independent doctor, such as an immediate examination of a lung specialist, as Rikhawi suffers from asthma, went ignored by Israeli authorities.

The human rights groups added in a statement released today that Rikhawi “reported that he is experiencing severe dizziness, can no longer walk and is having difficulty standing. Even more troubling, Akram has not been given any assistance in these matters, leaving him vulnerable to the danger of falling, which could result in fatal injury due to his osteoperosis.”

Rikhawi also told Addameer lawyer Mona Neddaf in a visit today that Israel is severely punishing him for his hunger strike, “confiscating his books and reading materials, isolating him from other prisoners and canceling his daily break. He is also being held in a cell with no fan or air conditioning, despite the high humidity and how badly it affects his asthma.”

The rights groups are calling on Israel to release Rikhawi on humanitarian grounds.

Rikhawi, a married father of eight children, was arrested on 7 June 2004 at a checkpoint between Gaza City and his home of Rafah. According to a profile of Akram Rikhawi on Addameer’s website:

In one of his first lawyer visits following his arrest, Akram reported that he had been subjected to ill-treatment. During his transfer to the detention center, Israeli soldiers removed all his clothes and brought dogs to frighten and intimidate him. Akram was later sentenced in an Israeli military court to nine years imprisonment.

HEALTH CONDITION

Akram has been held in Ramleh prison medical center since his arrest, as he suffers from many chronic conditions, including asthma. Prior to his arrest, Akram received injections of Kenacort to treat his asthma, but following his arrest, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) did not allow Akram to take this injection. Instead, it was replaced with injections of cortisone, which is most likely the cause of severe complications, resulting in additional chronic illnesses such as diabetes and osteoporosis, from which Akram now suffers. Akram underwent surgery in his left eye while in prison due to deterioration of his eye lenses and glaucoma. He also suffers from high cholesterol, kidney problems, and immune deficiency.

HUNGER STRIKE

Akram began his hunger strike on 12 April in protest against his request for early release not being granted despite his medical condition. He called for his immediate release due to the seriousness of his health condition and what he calls deliberate medical neglect by the IPS since his arrest. Every prisoner is entitled to ask to be considered for an earlier release when he has served at least two thirds of his sentence. In 2010, Akram had a court hearing for early release, which was denied. On 5 June 2012, his appeal for an early release on medical grounds was rejected.

Addameer notes that Rikhawi was the main source of income for his own family, but he has also cared for his brother’s five children in his home after their father passed away when they were very young:

Yasmine, Akram’s niece, says that her uncle was the main source of financial and emotional support for each and every member of their family and that his detention has been extremely difficult for them. She commented that his family was always his first priority and that he was the main support for his children in their studies, which his family misses deeply. Yasmine says that she cannot wait for the day when the whole family can gather in one place again. She describes Akram as “the number-one discussion starter” and that he is constantly reading all kinds of books.

Akram’s family has not been able to visit him since 2006. Following the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Israel issued a ban on family visits to all prisoners from Gaza in order to collectively punish the Gaza population. Despite his dangerous and deteriorating health condition, and despite an agreement made by Israel with the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike committee on 14 May to resume family visits to Gaza prisoners within one month, none of Akram’s family members have yet been given permission to visit him.

More hunger strikers at risk as Israel violates agreement

In their statement released today (full text below), PHR-I and Addameer note that Samer al-Barq, on his 45th day of “renewed hunger strike in protest against the extension of his administrative detention,” seems “significantly weaker” than during his last meeting with an Addameer lawyer on 25 June, adding that al-Barq is “consuming only water with glucose.”

Without any giving any reason, the Israeli Prison Services denied a request submitted by PHR-I to allow al-Barq access to independent physicians. According to his family, the groups state, al-Barq suffers from kidney problems and high blood pressure and has lost more than 25 percent of his original weight.”

Meanwhile, Hassan Safadi is on his 14th day of renewed hunger strike after Israel renewed the administrative detention orders against him in violation of the agreement ending the mass hunger strike begun on 17 April. Safadi previously spent 71 days on prolonged hunger strike.

Safadi’s lawyer is challenging the renewed detention orders. According to the rights groups’ statement today, Safadi “will not break his hunger strike until he is release to his home in Nablus.”

The groups add:

Hassan was transferred to Ramleh prison medical center last week and is currently being held in an isolated cell. He is drinking water with salt and taking vitamins due to a low potassium level in his blood. He has lost approximately 8 kilos in weight since the beginning of his renewed strike. PHR-IL submitted a request to allow access for an independent doctor on 26 June and have not yet received a response from the IPS.

Follow Addameer on Twitter for updates on hunger striking prisoners and Israel’s violations of the hunger strike agreement.

Full Addameer and PHR-I statement:

Concern mounts for the life of Akram Rikhawi on his 85th day of hunger strike

An independent doctor from PHR-Israel visited Akram Rikhawi yesterday and an Addameer lawyer visited him today, along with Samer Al-Barq and Hassan Safadi. Samer and Hassan are still denied access to independent doctors.

Ramallah-Jaffa5 July 2012—Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-IL) and Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association are gravely concerned for the life of Akram Rikhawi, who is now on his 85th day of hunger strike. An independent doctor from PHR-IL visited Akram in Ramleh prison medical center yesterday, 4 July, which was made possible only after an appeal to the Israeli District Court, where the judge eventually ordered the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) to allow the entry of the independent doctor no later than 3 July.

Following the visit to Akram, the PHR-IL doctor reported the alarming deterioration of Akram’s asthma, which continues to be unstable. The doctor believes Akram has been given very high doses of steroids as treatment, which can cause severe long-term and irreversible damage. The doctor reiterated recommendation for immediate examination by a lung specialist, which was not performed as recommended after the last visit by an independent doctor on 6 June.

Akram also reported that he is experiencing severe dizziness, can no longer walk and is having difficulty standing. Even more troubling, Akram has not been given any assistance in these matters, leaving him vulnerable to the danger of falling, which could result in fatal injury due to his osteoperosis. The doctor further noted that Akram is experiencing tingling and numbness in his left thigh, which could indicate peripheral nerve damage, and recommended immediate examination in a public hospital, for fear of permanent neurological damage.

The IPS has continued to punish Akram for his hunger strike by confiscating his books and reading materials, isolating him from other prisoners and cancelling his daily break. He is also being held in a cell with no fan or air conditioning, despite the high humidity and how badly it affects his asthma.

Akram pointed out to the independent doctor and to Addameer lawyer Mona Neddaf in her visit today that he was recently hospitalized at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, but was shackled at all times to the hospital bed and felt his needs were mostly ignored by the medical staff. He emphasized to Ms. Neddaf his desire to have unrestricted access to the independent doctors from PHR-IL.

Ms. Neddaf also visited Samer Al-Barq, who is on his 45th day of renewed hunger strike in protest against the extension of his administrative detention. Ms. Neddaf noted that he seems significantly weaker than during her last visit on 25 June. He is consuming only water with glucose.

Samer’s family has reported that he suffers from kidney problems and high blood pressure and has lost more than 25% of his original weight. On 21 June, PHR-IL submitted a request to allow access for independent physicians. On 25 June the IPS denied this request without providing any reasons.

Hassan Safadi is on his 14th day of renewed hunger strike, after previously spending 71 days on prolonged hunger strike. His last administrative detention order was due to expire on 29 June and, according to the agreement ending Palestinian prisoners’ mass hunger strike, he was supposed to be released on that date. However, his lawyer was informed on 21 June of the renewal of his administrative detention order for a further six months, in violation of the agreement.

According to Ms. Neddaf after her visit with him today, Hassan’s lawyer submitted a request to the military judge that he review the agreement and consider his immediate release. The judge responded that he would give a decision on this matter in two weeks. Hassan stressed that he will not break his hunger strike until he is release to his home in Nablus.

Hassan was transferred to Ramleh prison medical center last week and is currently being held in an isolated cell. He is drinking water with salt and taking vitamins due to a low potassium level in his blood. He has lost approximately 8 kilos in weight since the beginning of his renewed strike. PHR-IL submitted a request to allow access for an independent doctor on 26 June and have not yet received a response from the IPS.

In light of the deterioration of the conditions of the remaining Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, PHR-IL and Addameer urge the international community to immediately intervene on their behalf and demand:

  • unrestricted access for independent physicians to all hunger strikers;

  • the immediate transfer of Akram Rikhawi and Samer Al-Barq to a public hospital, and the transfer of all prisoners on hunger strike for more than 40 days to public hospitals;

  • that no hunger striker be shackled while hospitalized;

  • that all hunger strikers—especially those in advanced stages of hunger strike—be allowed family visits, while they are still lucid;

  • that all information be given to families as to the medical condition of their loved ones, which is the responsibility of hospitals and medical staff in accordance with standards of medical ethics;

  • that Akram Rikhawi be granted release on humanitarian grounds;

  • that Hassan Safadi and Samer Al-Barq, along with all other administrative detainees, be immediately and unconditionally released.

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Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is the managing editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago.