On 18 March 2007, Al-Haq fieldworker and human rights defender, Ziyad Hmeidan, was dropped off by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) at the Dahiriya (Meitar) checkpoint, south of Hebron, at around 14:15, marking the end of almost two years of detention without charge or fair trial. From the checkpoint Ziyad travelled to the village of Sa’ir, where he met briefly with a number of Al-Haq’s staff, before heading on to Bethlehem, where he was reunited with his wife and two young children. Ziyad’s release, similar to the entire process which arbitrarily deprived him of his freedom for 20 months, was marked by obstructions from the Israeli authorities.
In the days preceding Ziyad’s scheduled release, his lawyer repeatedly contacted the IPS to find out where Ziyad would be released. Her requests were unsuccessful. After consulting with various organisations that deal with detention issues, Al-Haq was informed that the most likely point for his release was at the Tarqumiya checkpoint, located to the south east of Hebron. Based on this information Al-Haq arranged to have staff members present at the checkpoint from early morning on 18 March. At mid-morning on the day in question, Al-Haq succeeded in contacting the IPS and was informed that Ziyad was still held at Rimon prison, where he was detained, and that he would be released at Tarqumiya checkpoint. A subsequent effort to obtain further information from the IPS failed.
The checkpoint at which Ziyad was finally released was in fact some 30 kilometres from the location Al-Haq had been given. After borrowing a mobile phone from the driver of a shared taxi, Ziyad was able to contact Al-Haq and arrange a meeting point.
When Ziyad arrived at the meeting at around 15:00, he was carrying a largely empty sports bag. He informed Al-Haq that roughly ten days prior to the date of his release, he had asked if he could take the diaries he had kept during his time in prison, and some 50 to 60 letters of support he had received, with him upon his release. He was assured that if he handed over the diaries and letters for a security inspection prior to his release he would be able to take them with him. Accordingly, Ziyad did so. Upon the day of his release he was told he could not take the letters. No justification was provided. Ziyad initially refused to leave without these itmes, but was ordered onto the bus that would carry him to the checkpoint.
In any event, the circumstances of Ziyad’s release pale in significance when compared to the egregious violation of fundamental human rights that was Ziyad’s administrative detention. Neither Ziyad, nor his lawyer, were ever informed of any charges against him, nor the reason for his arrest and detention, thereby violating fundamental due process rights and rendering his entire detention arbitrary and illegal under international law. In addition, his detention conditions failed to meet fundamental human rights standards for the treatment of prisoners. While Al-Haq rejoices at Ziyad’s release and welcomes him back to the Palestinian community of human rights defenders these basic facts must not be forgotten. Nor must it be forgotten that over 700 Palestinians currently remain in administrative detention.
Finally, Al-Haq would like to express its most sincere thanks to all those who involved themselves in Ziyad’s case. Their efforts not only provided Ziyad with much needed support, but also sent a clear message to the Israeli Authorities that Ziyad’s illegal detention in violation of fundamental human rights was not going unnoticed.