Torture coalition demands investigation into death of PA detainee
Majd al-Barghouti died on 22 February, while he was being illegally detained by the General Intelligence Service (GIS) of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. The forensic medical report, ordered by the Palestinian Attorney General, calls the sudden death “natural” and lists the cause of death as heart failure, due to an abnormally enlarged heart. Although the report states that there were no signs of violence on any part of the body, it notes that there were dark colored marks on his arms, right knee and right thigh, “which were not related to the cause of death.” There is evidence “including photographs” indicating that prior to his death, Sheikh Majid ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Mustafa al-Barghouti, 44 years old, was subjected to torture and ill-treatment. He might also have been a victim of medical negligence during his detention. The United Against Torture (AUT) Coalition expresses its deep concern over the sudden death of al-Barghouti, as well as his illegal detention, which is part of an ongoing wave of mass arrests and illegal detentions being carried out by the PA. The UAT Coalition strongly supports the establishment of an independent investigation committee to examine the circumstances surrounding Majid al-Barghouti’s death. We also call for the mandate of the investigation committee to be expanded to include Mr. Barghouti’s illegal detention, as well as the illegal detention of large numbers of other Palestinian citizens.
According to reports, Majid al-Barghouti was arrested on 14 February, eight days prior to his death. Two civilian cars with Palestinian license plates entered Koubar village, outside of Ramallah, and four masked men confronted al-Barghouti when he emerged from the local mosque, where he served as Imam. When al-Barghouti called for help, one of the men identified himself as an officer of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service and took al-Barghouti to GIS headquarters in the north of al-Bireh for interrogation. He was not brought before judicial authorities within 24 hours of his arrest, as required by Palestinian Penal Law. No visits were permitted to Majd al-Barghouti throughout his detention.
In affidavits given to both the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and Al-Haq, a Palestinian who was arrested by the GIS at the same time as al-Barghouti alleged that al-Barghouti was violently beaten while in detention. This witness claimed that he recognized al-Barghouti’s voice screaming for help from an interrogation room opposite his cell as he was being interrogated about his relationship with the Executive Force of the Palestinian Ministry of Interior in the government in Gaza. The eyewitness, who himself claimed to have been tortured while in detention, further alleged that he could see through a hole in the wall of his cell that al-Barghouti was handcuffed with an iron chain connected to the top of the window pane, which forced his body to be suspended above the ground. A PCHR field worker personally witnessed marks on al-Barghouti’s hands that were consistent with having been chained and suspended for a long period of time.
According to the witness, on 21 February, he heard an interrogator offer al-Barghouti food and water, but he vomited. Through the hole in the wall, the eyewitness says he saw an officer pull al-Barghouti up, telling him to stand, and heard al-Barghotui say that he did not have the energy to stand anymore. In the afternoon, al-Barghouti was brought to the balcony and the witness could hear him groaning until about 8:30 in morning of 22 February, when he became silent. There is no indication that the GIS called a doctor to provide al-Barghouti with medical assistance, although they were legally responsible for his wellbeing.
Majid al-Barghouti was married with eight children. His family insists that he did not suffer from any heart problems prior to his detention. The evidence, which includes photographs of the victim’s body, the autopsy report, indicating that “there were acute abrasions on the [victim’s] forehands and his thighs and knees were discolored,” and the eyewitness affidavits, all indicate that al-Barghouti was subjected to torture and/or ill-treatment during his detention by the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence Service — in violation of one of the most basic of all human rights: the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Torture is prohibited at all times by both international law and Palestinian law. Torture is a crime that is subject to prosecution anywhere in the world under universal jurisdiction.
According to the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights (PICCR) press release of 24 February, Sheikh al-Barghouti was arrested “on grounds of his political affiliation and without the adherence of the GIS to legally binding procedures.” This was not an isolated incident; PICCR points out in its press release, that there has been “a remarkable increase in the number of Palestinian detainees held in Palestinian prisons and detention centers.” Sheikh al-Barghouti was not brought before competent judicial authorities as stipulated by Palestinian law. He was held under “severe living conditions” and was not provided with necessary medical treatment. He was prevented from seeing his family throughout his detention. His treatment and the conditions of his incarceration were not monitored by any authority. In fact, PICCR, the only human rights organization that has access to prisons and detention centers under the control of the Palestinian Authority, has often been denied access to the Central Detention Centers of the GIS in Ramallah and Jericho. According to its press release, PICCR has been “prevented from monitoring prison conditions and ensuring that legally binding procedures are followed.” In February 2008, PICCR was denied access to the Ramallah detention center where al-Barghouti was being held. A parliamentary committee has now been formed to investigate al-Barghouti’s death and the circumstances surrounding it, and PICCR has joined that committee.
In light of the above, United Against Torture calls for:
- A thorough and independent investigation of the death of Majid al-Barghouti and the circumstances surrounding his death. Full cooperation by all relevant authorities with the parliamentary committee to enable it to properly fulfill its mandate.
- Prosecution of anyone who was involved in subjecting Majid al-Barghouti to torture, ill-treatment or medical neglect, as well as their superiors who may have ordered or condoned such treatment. No impunity for government officials.
- The investigation should include the legality of the procedures used to arrest and detain Sheikh al-Barghouti.
- An immediate halt to arrests made on grounds of political affiliation and the immediate release of all current political prisoners.
- Unrestricted and effective authority to PICCR to inspect all Palestinian detention facilities, including those managed by the GIS.
- Facilitation of visits by human rights organizations, including the various Palestinian member organizations of UAT, to all detention centers in order to monitor detention conditions and the treatment of detainees, and to ensure that legal procedures are being complied with. Visits by detainees’ lawyers and families.
- The immediate and permanent closure of all unofficial detention centers.
Al-Quds Human Rights Clinic
Defence for Children International - Palestine Section
Gaza Community Mental Health Program
Italian Consortium of Solidarity
Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel
Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture
- Death of PA detainee raises suspicions of torture, Al Mezan (26 February 2008)