A joint Addameer and Stop the Wall update on the arrest of human rights defender and activist Mohammad Othman.

[Ramallah, 9 November 2009] On Sunday 8 November 2009, a court hearing at Ofer Military Court extended Mohammad Othman’s detention period for another 10 days. It has been 46 days since Mohammad Othman, a long-time human rights defender and activist with the “Grassroots Stop the Wall Campaign”, was arrested at the Allenby Bridge Crossing between Jordan and the West Bank and held for interrogation. On the day of his arrest, 22 September 2009, Mohammad was on his way back to Ramallah from an advocacy tour in Norway where he had been engaged in a number of speaking events.

Barring Mohammad from Access to his Attorney

On 1 November 2009, military court prosecutors requested that Mohammad be barred from meeting with his lawyers until his next court hearing, which was scheduled for 8 November 2009. Before this request, Mohammad’s lawyers visited regularly and constituted his only contact with the outside world, except for occasional visits by ICRC delegates. The court hearing deciding on the prosecution’s request took place at Salem Military Court the following day, 2 November 2009, without Mohammad or his lawyer present. Addameer, which is representing Mohammad before the military courts, was neither informed of the prosecution’s request nor of the court’s subsequent decision to implement the ban on lawyers’ visits.

The ban was only discovered on 4 November 2009, when Addameer attorney Samer Sam’an was forbidden from visiting Mohammad upon Sam’an’s arrival to Kishon detention center for a regular visit aiming at monitoring Mohammad’s health and detention conditions. That same day, Adv. Sam’an also learned that Mohammad had been transferred to Ohalei Keidar prison, located in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba.

On 5 November 2009, Addameer filed an appeal to challenge the court’s decision barring Mohammad from access to his lawyers. At the appeal hearing held on 8 November, the Military Court of Appeals judge stated that Addameer must appeal the ban directly to the Israeli High Court as the Appeals Court lacked jurisdiction over such matters. Although Addameer recognizes that the judge’s recommendation is the usual procedure under Israeli military orders, as Mohammad Othman’s attorney, Mahmoud Hassan, argued before the Appeals Court, orders barring a detainee from access to his lawyer are typically issued as an administrative measure at the very early stages of an individual’s detention, and typically not later than after the first week. Moreover, in Addameer’s experience, there has never been a case where a ban on lawyers’ visits was implemented by a court’s decision, 46 days into the interrogation. Addameer is thus tremendously alarmed, and fears that the ban on lawyers’ visits is yet another step to isolate Mohammad and coerce him into giving a false confession about crimes he has not committed after the interrogation police’s strategy of threats, intimidation, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, physical and mental exhaustion has failed. There is reason to believe that Mohammad Othman’s transfer to Ohalei Keidar prison in Beersheba was intended to exert further pressure on him by placing him in so-called “collaborators’ cells”. Torture and ill-treatment in such cells is widespread and known to occur in some sections of Ohalei Keidar, where detainees are often beaten, punched, threatened and exposed to psychological pressure if they refuse to talk to other prisoners, who are detained in the same cells and who are typically collaborating with Israeli military authorities.

Addameer is also alarmed that, at the appeal hearing, the judge of the Military Court of Appeals decided that Mohammad’s hearing regarding the extension of his detention would take place in his absence for “the sake of the interrogation”. Because Mohammad is now barred from access to lawyers’ visits, and Addameer attorneys have not seen him since 1 November, yesterday’s court hearing was the only opportunity for both Addameer and Mohammad’s family to ensure that he is in good health. However, as Mohammad was not brought to the hearing, Addameer remains extremely concerned about his health including his physical and mental well-being, especially given the high likelihood that he is being exposed to ill-treatment in Ohalei Keidar.

Extension of Detention Hearing

A few hours after the appeal hearing on 8 November 2009, another court hearing took place to decide on Mohammad’s extension of detention period. This was the sixth hearing regarding the extension of Mohammad’s detention since his arrest on 22 September 2009. Again, as in previous hearings, no charges were laid against Mohammad and no external evidence was brought to the court’s attention. As in previous hearings, the military court again justified its decision to extend Mohammad’s detention period stating that it was needed for further interrogation. At the same time, the military judge also extended Mohammad’s ban on access to lawyers’ visits until 15 November 2009, contending that such a ban was necessary for the sake of the interrogation.

During the hearing, Mohammad’s attorney Mahmoud Hassan argued yet again that the arrest of individuals based on reasonable suspicions is admissible only in the beginning of an individual’s detention. However, as Adv. Hassan argued, after 46 days of detention allegedly for the purpose of interrogation, such suspicions must be substantiated and supplemented by external evidence if any fair trial standards are to be upheld. Information on Mohammad’s interrogation gathered before his transfer to Ohalei Keidar casts serious doubt as to whether his ongoing detention is based on valid reasoning or the pursuit of credible evidence. For example, while held at Kishon detention center, Mohammad was subjected to long interrogation sessions where he was kept in the same position for long hours, yet the Israeli interrogators continued to ask few, if any, questions at all. In another example, on 27 October 2009, Mohammad was interrogated for more than nine hours in two separate sessions. The first session took place from 8:10 a.m. until 9:20 a.m., whereas the second started at 9:45 a.m. and did not end until 5:45 p.m. Despite the marathon, nine hour interrogation session, the Israeli interrogators wrote only a two page report.

Addameer and Stop the Wall’s Position

Considering that, 46 days after Mohammad’s arrest, Israeli authorities have still been unable to cite any legitimate suspicions or allegations to justify his detention, both Addameer and Stop the Wall contend that Mohammad’s arrest was arbitrary and therefore illegal under applicable international law, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Addameer and Stop the Wall also reaffirm their previously stated position that Mohammad was arrested because of his high-profile advocacy work, both locally and internationally, as a human rights defender voicing opposition to Israel’s ongoing human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory, including those resulting from the continuing, illegal construction of the Annexation Wall inside the West Bank.

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. 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.

In addition, Addameer and Stop the Wall urge the International Committee of the Red Cross to increase their visits and request to see Mohammad more frequently to grant him special protection, especially as he remains barred from access to lawyers’ visits.

For updates and to take action for Mohammad, visit the Free Mohammad Othman blog.

For more information about Mohammad’s arrest, please refer previous statements and updates on the case issued by Addameer and Stop the Wall, or directly contact:

Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
Tel: +972 (0)2 296 0446 / 297 0136
Email: info@addameer.ps
Website: www.addameer.info

Stop the Wall Campaign
Tel: +972-2-2971505
Email: global@stopthewall.org
Website: www.stopthewall.org

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