Joint Addameer and “Stop the Wall” Update on the Arrest of Human Rights Defender and Activist Mohammad Othman
[Ramallah, 30 September 2009] On Tuesday 29 September 2009, a court hearing at Kishon (Jalameh) interrogation center extended Mohammad Othman’s detention period for 10 days. A long-time human rights defender, Mohammad Othman, aged 33, was arrested on 22 September 2009 at the Allenby Bridge Border Crossing between Jordan and the West Bank. Mohammad, who is an activist with the “Grassroots Stop the Wall Campaign,” was on his way back to Ramallah from an advocacy tour in Norway where he had been engaged in a number of speaking events.
At the court hearing in Kishon, the Israeli interrogation police did not provide any reason for 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 no clear allegations exist as only two short interrogation sessions had taken place during the previous eight days of his detention. The judge did agree, however, to a 10 day extension period, based on “secret information” that was made available to him by representatives from the Israeli Security Agency (ISA). Addameer attorney Samer Sam’an, who represented Mohammad at the court hearing in Kishon, questioned the ISA officers about the content of the undisclosed information and the reasons for Mohammad’s detention, but received no answer.
On 24 September 2009, Mohammad was transferred from Huwwara provisional detention centre to Kishon interrogation centre, located near Haifa in northern Israel. He was subsequently placed in solitary confinement. On 27 September 2009, five days after his arrest, he was interrogated for the first time. In the interrogation session, which lasted less than one hour, Mohammad was questioned about his friends and family and was asked to provide their telephone numbers along with his personal e-mail address. In addition, the interrogators asked Mohammad broad questions about his work. The second interrogation session, which took place a few hours before Mohammad’s court hearing on 29 September, lasted just 40 minutes and featured the same questions as his first interrogation.
Considering that, eight days after Mohammad’s arrest, Israeli authorities have 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. 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.
Addameer and Stop the Wall contend that Mohammad’s arrest should be viewed in a wider context of persistent Israeli repression against Palestinian human rights defenders and activists who, like Mohammad, have been successful in their lobbying efforts, at home and abroad, against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, Israel’s continuation of land confiscation and the illegal construction of the Annexation Wall. For example, on 20 July 2009, Mohammad Srour, a member of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in Ni’lin, a village west of Ramallah affected by the construction of the Annexation Wall, was detained by Israeli border officials while crossing the Allenby Bridge from Jordan and taken to Ofer prison for interrogation. Srour was released on bail three days later. Although Srour was not charged, the courts said they were likely going to charge him, but they did not say on what grounds or when. In its final report submitted to the Human Rights Council, the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict expressed its concern that Srour’s detention “may have been a consequence of his appearance before the Mission”. Indeed, on 6 July 2009, together with an Israeli activist, Srour testified before the Mission in Geneva and described the fatal shooting of two Ni’lin residents by Israeli forces during a demonstration in Ni’lin on 28 December 2008 protesting the Israeli aggression in Gaza. Srour’s arrest, like the arrest of Mohammad Othman, is an indication of the oppression levied against Palestinian human rights defenders and marks an increasing infringement by Israel of the Palestinian population’s rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to peaceful assembly as inscribed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Most importantly, Addameer and Stop the Wall fear that Mohammad could be held placed under indefinite administrative detention, without charge or trial, for a renewable period of one to six months. No justification other than an unsupported declaration that “the detainee poses a threat to the security of the State” or “area” would need to be provided for this to occur. Furthermore, it is clear from Addameer’s experience that Israel has regularly used administrative detention in the OPT to facilitate the detention of community activists and human rights defenders in cases where the prosecution lacks “sufficient”—or, more likely, “any”—evidence against them.
In light of the above, Addameer and Stop the Wall 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.