On Monday 19 October 2009, a court hearing at Salem military court, in the northern West Bank, extended Mohammad Othman’s detention period for another 11 days. It has been 29 days now since human rights defender Mohammad Othman was arrested at the Allenby Bridge Border Crossing between Jordan and the West Bank. Mohammad, who volunteers with the Grassroots Stop the Wall Campaign, was on his way back to Ramallah from an advocacy tour in Norway, during which he was engaged in a number of speaking events and meetings with government officials. Monday’s court hearing was Mohammad’s third since the moment of his arrest on 22 September 2009. The two previous hearings have consistently extended Mohammad’s detention period for 10 and 12 days respectively, although no clear allegations have been made against Mohammad and no external evidence was brought to the attention of the court. Arrests of individuals based on reasonable suspicions are admissible in the beginning of one’s detention. However, after one month of continuous interrogation, such suspicions need to be substantiated and built upon by external evidence if any fair trial standards are to be upheld. Based on Israeli military orders, a military judge can authorize the detention of Palestinian detainees for up to 90 days, which can be extended for another 90 days by the judge of the Military Appeal Court.
During the hearing, the Israeli interrogation police failed once again to provide any evidence justifying Mohammad’s arrest, but contended that an extension of his detention period was necessary for further interrogation. The military judge rejected the interrogators’ initial request to extend Mohammad’s detention period to 23 additional days, arguing that the period was too long, but agreed to a 10 day extension period, based on “secret information,” which was made available to him by representatives from the Israeli Security Agency (ISA). Military Judge Eliahu Nimni argued that the extension is required in order to end the interrogation and clarify suspicions against Mohammad. At the same time, he maintained that releasing Mohammad would constitute a security threat, despite the fact that no concrete suspicions of any alleged offenses were made, thus siding with the interrogation police. Addameer appealed the court’s decision and the appeal hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, 22 October.
The detention of an international observer
Monday’s hearing was attended by Mohammad’s father, a Machsom Watch volunteer and two German human rights activists working with Pax Christi. A third international activist, a Norwegian university student and member of the Norwegian Socialist Youth party visiting the West Bank on a research trip, was detained at the door of the court even though the court had previously agreed to allow him to attend the hearing. Moreover, he attended Mohammad’s appeals hearing at Ofer on 14 October 2009. He was held for three hours, during which he was questioned about his activities in the West Bank and was asked to give his cell phone number and email address.
Change in tactics during interrogation
After approximately one week following his arrest, Mohammad has been subjected to long interrogation sessions, lasting at times from 10 to 15 hours, during which he was repeatedly cursed at, intimidated and threatened. These interrogation sessions are ongoing until today. During one of the sessions, an interrogator threatened to hurt Mohammad’s sister if he did not reveal information. However, at no point were suspicions against Mohammad made clear to him. No specific dates, events or names were mentioned and Mohammad still believes that the real reasons behind his arrest are related to his successful advocacy and lobbying activities, both locally and internationally. All other suspicions are unfounded. On 14 October, Addameer attorney Mahmoud Hassan stated before the Judge of the Military Appeals Court in an appeals hearing that Mohammad has been ill-treated. Since then, the interrogation police have abandoned their tactics of intimidation and threats, and instead have adopted a strategy of physical and mental exhaustion by leaving Mohammad alone, sitting in the interrogation room in the same position for several hours at a time, with his hands tied behind his back. Every few hours, the interrogators question him on issues relating to his human rights activism and activities as a volunteer with the Stop the Wall Campaign. They also ask questions about other staff members of the campaign, which only reinforces Addameer’s and Stop the Wall’s belief that Mohammad is detained for his activities as a human rights defender.
Mohammad complained to Addameer attorneys that on 15 October, he was kept in the interrogation room from 1:45pm until 1:20am, while being interrogated intermittently. During what totaled 12 hours, the interrogators only wrote five pages of notes in their report. When Mohammad fell finally asleep on his chair out of exhaustion, the interrogators woke him up by pouring cold water over his head. During the hearing on 19 October, military judge Eliahu Nimni stated that the court would look into the interrogation techniques should charges be pressed against Mohammad, arguing that the measures used by the interrogators aim to physically exhaust him. Moreover, Addameer and Stop the Wall fear that by physically and mentally exhausting Mohammad, the interrogation police aim to coerce him into giving a false confession to crimes he has not committed.
Mohammad is still held in solitary confinement in Kishon detention center, in an individual cell, with no windows and natural sunlight. The cell contains only a mattress and a Turkish toilet falling short of acceptable hygiene standards. Mohammad is prevented from communicating with other detainees or with his family. His only contact with the outside world occurs during lawyers’ visits. Although Mohammad is allowed to shower every day in a bathroom located outside of his cell, he has not been able to change his clothes since the moment of his arrest, totaling 29 days. Mohammad’s meals are usually served to him in the interrogation room during short breaks, lasting no longer than 20 minutes.
Addameer and Stop the Wall position
Addameer and Stop the Wall reiterate that Mohammad’s arrest is completely arbitrary and constitutes a violation of various international human rights instruments, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. As 29 days of continuous interrogation have not proved anything, vague suspicions have not been translated into any allegations and no external evidence has been brought to the court’s attention, Addameer and Stop the Wall are led to believe that Mohammad is being detained as a punishment for his human rights activism. In addition, there is reason to believe that the Israeli military authorities use Mohammad’s continuous detention as an example to deter other activists against the occupation and the Annexation Wall in particular, from continuing their human rights work.
The protection of human rights defenders is not only a moral obligation, but has been recognized by the United Nations as a social, individual and collective right and responsibility. It has also been an important element of the European Union’s human rights external policy for many years. Addameer and Stop the Wall thus urge foreign government officials, including members of foreign representative offices to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and foreign Consulates in East Jerusalem, as well as representatives of the European Commission and the European Parliament, human rights organizations and United Nations bodies to:
- Raise Mohammad Othman’s case in their official meetings with Israeli officials;
- Demand clarifications regarding the reason for Mohammad’s arrest and extended detention in official letters addressed to Israeli authorities;
- Demand Mohammad’s immediate release and pressure Israel to put an end to its policy of arbitrary detention.