Arrest of Palestinian Human Rights Defender

NEW YORK — Israel should immediately release `Abd al-Latif Gheith, a prominent rights activist now being held without charge in a military detention camp, Human Rights Watch said today. In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Human Rights Watch said that if Mr. Gheith was suspected of violating any laws, the government should file charges in a court that meets international standards for fair trials.

Gheith, 63 years old and board chairman of Addameer, a prisoner support organization based in Ramallah, was detained on July 29 after security officials questioned him at a military checkpoint about Addameer’s activities and staff. On August 4, Israel’s deputy military commander issued an order detaining Gheith without charge for six months on unspecified grounds of “endangering security.”

“Abd al-Latif Gheith shouldn’t be harassed and punished simply for actively promoting people’s basic rights,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. “He should be freed immediately unless the government can demonstrate that he has violated some law.”

Ghaith is one of the founders of Addameer, which began its work in 1992. He is a resident of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shufat, but was detained under military regulations governing residents of the occupied West Bank. He has also been active in campaigns against Israel’s construction of a “separation barrier” in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel is presently holding around 750 Palestinians without charge under administrative detention orders.

Human Rights Watch Letter to Ariel Sharon

August 5, 2004

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned by the arrest and continued detention without charge of Mr. `Abd al-Latif Gheith, a prominent human rights activist and presently chair of the board of trustees of Addameer, a human rights organization based in Ramallah. We are writing to urge his immediate release from administrative detention. No reasons have been given for his detention, and it appears that Mr. Ghaith is being harassed and punished solely for engaging in legitimate and peaceful activities promoting and defending human rights. If the authorities have reason to suspect Mr. Gheith of violating any laws, we urge you to present appropriate charges in a court of law whose procedures meet international fair trial standards.

Mr Gheith, 63 years old, was detained on the afternoon of Thursday, July 29, 2004, at the Qalandiyya military checkpoint on his return home to East Jerusalem after visiting Addameer’s Ramallah office. He was not permitted to meet with his legal counsel until 2 p.m. on Wednesday August 4. Later that same day, Col. Dror Rofe, the deputy military commander of the Israel Defense Forces in the occupied West Bank issued an administrative order that would detain Mr. Gheith without charge for six months, until February 4, 2005, on unspecified grounds of “endangering security.”

Mr. Gheith is a founder and currently chair of the board of trustees of Addameer, a human rights organization started in 1992 to provide support and assistance to prisoners and persons held in administrative detention. He is a resident of Shufat, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, and has recently been active in campaigns against Israel’s construction of a separation barrier in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

According to an affidavit he provided to his attorney, Mahmoud Hassan, on August 4, Mr. Gheith was detained at the military checkpoint for about four hours before an officer of the General Security Services arrived to question him. He was then questioned for approximately fifteen minutes about the work and activities of Addameer, his work with the organization, and its staff. Soldiers then took him to the Giva’at Ze’ev settlement near Jerusalem, and then to the Binyamin military detention camp at the Ofer military base on the outskirts of Ramallah.

The authorities have not presented either Mr. Gheith or his attorney with any reason for his arrest, and he has not been charged with any offence. Although he is a resident of East Jerusalem, he is being held under Administrative Detention Order (Temporary Provisions) of 1988, the military regulations governing the occupied West Bank.

We strongly urge you to see that Mr. Gheith is released without delay, and in any case not later than August 10, when a hearing before a military judge has been scheduled to confirm the administrative detention order against him. If the government has any legitimate grounds for detaining Mr. Gheith, it should file appropriate charges before a court whose procedures meet international fair trial standards.

Sincerely,

Sarah Leah Whitson

cc: Shaul Mofaz, Minister of Defense
Daniel Ayalon, Ambassador DC

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