Israel: Release Palestinian prisoner of conscience detained without charge or trial
The Israeli authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Ahmed Qatamesh, a 67-year-old Palestinian academic, writer and political analyst who has been arbitrarily detained under a three month administrative detention order, said Amnesty International.
Ahmed Qatamesh was seized during a pre-dawn raid on his home on 14 May 2017. Three days later a military commander signed an administrative order to detain him for three months despite the fact that he has not been charged with a criminal offence. An Israeli military court is due to confirm the detention soon. Under Israel’s administrative detention policies, Palestinians are routinely detained indefinitely on security grounds, without charge or trial, using renewable detention orders of up to six months.
“Once again Ahmed Qatamesh looks set to be subjected to Israel’s ruthless policy of administrative detention. Amnesty International believes that he has been detained solely due to his non-violent political activities and writing and to deter activism by other Palestinians. Confirming the administrative detention order against him would be a flagrant violation of his right to freedom of expression,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“Ahmed Qatamesh shouldn’t spend a single minute more behind bars, let alone be detained for three months without charge or trial. He is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally.
“For decades Israel has used its cruel administrative detention policies to trample over the rights of Palestinian detainees. Instead of indefinitely detaining Palestinians without charge or trial, Israel should end its use of administrative detention, which inflicts huge emotional suffering on detainees and their families, placing them in a permanent state of uncertainty.”
This is not the first time Ahmed Qatamesh has been a prisoner of conscience. In total he has spent more than eight-years in administrative detention at the hands of the Israeli authorities. He was last released from administrative detention in December 2013.
According to his family, he had been called for interrogation by the Israeli military intelligence authorities twice in 2016. He was warned to stop writing and speaking or he may “get in trouble”. Both times he refused, telling the military intelligence that he is a writer and an academic and would speak and write what he wanted.
Of the more than 6,500 Palestinians jailed in Israeli prisons, more than 500 are held under administrative detention without charge or trial. The end to Israel’s practice of administrative detention is one of the demands of the ongoing hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by the Israeli authorities.
Ahmad Qatamesh, a political commentator and university professor, has been an outspoken critic of both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities and the Oslo agreement, an interim deal which transferred partial control to Palestinian authorities in some areas of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He has called for a fundamental change in the political landscape and strategy of Palestinians, an end to the divisions between Hamas and the Palestinian authorities, and has highlighted the Palestinian population’s discontent with their leadership. His writings have analysed various proposals for alternative governance systems between Palestinians and Israelis. Ahmad Qatamesh has also often appeared on local television and radio shows. Most recently, he has spoken out strongly in support of the mass Palestinian prisoner hunger strike and the need for political backing for Palestinian rights.
In a meeting with his lawyer on 21 May at Ofer prison, Ahmed Qatamesh said he has not been questioned since his arrest. He also announced he would no longer take his medication in prison in protest at his arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. His family is gravely concerned for his health. His wife Suha Barghouti told Amnesty International that the rough treatment and medical neglect he had endured in prison had damaged his inner ear affecting his balance.
She said that since his release in 2013, he’s also experienced problems with fainting and blackouts. “In the past few months, he’s been getting better, but I’m so worried about what this new detention will do to him. He’s no longer as young or as strong as he used to be,” she said.
Witnesses described to Amnesty International the night raid that led to Ahmed Qatamesh’s arrest on 14 May. At around 4am, between 40 and 50 Israeli soldiers in at least seven military jeeps and an armoured vehicle arrived in the al-Bireh neighbourhood of Ramallah where Ahmed Qatamesh once lived. The witnesses said that the soldiers broke down the front door to his former home only to find it empty. They then broke down the neighbours’ doors, before moving on to the family homes of Ahmed Qatamesh’s brothers.
At approximately 4:30am, the soldiers entered the homes of two of his brothers, waking both their families. When they couldn’t find him there either, they forced his brother Khaled to direct them to his current home located nearby. Khaled Qatamesh said the soldiers made him walk in front of them and knock on the door, as if they were using him “as a kind of shield”. Khaled tried to calm the soldiers down, explaining that his brother is older and hard of hearing and that there was no need for any violence or to break down the door. Eventually, Ahmed Qatamesh awoke and opened the door. The soldiers told him to dress and took him away in the armoured vehicle. The soldiers did not search the home, nor did they take any materials, according to Ahmed Qatamesh’s brother.
“Some of my earliest memories from when I was seven or eight years-old are of Israeli soldiers storming our home in the middle of the night, scaring all of us and trying to make us live in fear,” Khaled Qatamesh said. “Here I am, now 54 years-old and am faced with the same tactics still. Now my children are the ones creating these fearful memories. It terrorizes the whole family.”