Deaths in Custody
During the first quarter of 1997, two prisoners
held in PA prisons died within two weeks of each other. The first, Fayez
Hanna Yaqub Qumsieh, died under suspicious circumstances on January 17.
The second, Yussuf Ismail Al-Baba died on January 31. Their bodies bore
marks showing that they had been mistreated while alive. The Bethlehem
police claimed that Qumsieh committed suicide. Perhaps as a result of the
intervention of a human rights organization, Al-Baba's death was
recognized almost immediately as being the result of torture.
In the aftermath of the death of Al-Baba, Jamil Hamdi, the Nablus police
commander, promised a through investigation. Attorney General Khalid Al-Qidrah
was reported to be investigating the death of Al-Baba himself. Justice
Minister Freih Abu-Medien was also on the investigating team. Abu-Medien
"affirmed that what is taking place is against the law and legal
procedure, particularly that an arrest order was never issued from any
mandatory body and without the knowledge of Nablus prosecutor, without
presenting Al-Baba to any court or even transferring him to civil police
On February 5, the Legislative Council discussed the death of Al-Baba. The
next day, Legislative Council Chairman Ahmed Qrei' spoke up for human
rights in general. Ten days passed, and then the newspapers reported that
those responsible for the death of Al-Baba have been arrested - Nablus
deputy governor Abdul Mu'ti Sadeq, Nablus Military Intelligence Commander
Hani Ayyad, and Nablus Governate Director General Bassam Hilo. Also
arrested were a doctor and two nurses. That same day Abu-Medein announced
that the investigation was continuing, and will lead to court cases.
The Al-Baba family is waiting. So is the Qumsieh family. And the Jummayel
family, the Al-Habel family, and others. What follows are the results of
the PHRMG investigation into the deaths in custody that have taken place
this year. An attempt was made to use the results of the investigations
prepared by the Legislative Council and the Justice Ministry, but these
have not been made public.
B. Fayez Hanna Yaqub Qumsieh -
Authorities Claim Suicide
Fayez Qumsieh died on January 17 at Al-Hussein
hospital in Beit Jala. At the time, he was in the custody of the Military
Police, Military Intelligence, and/or Police in Bethlehem. The Bethlehem
police reported that it was a suicide. The PHRMG has evidence that Fayez
Qumsieh was mistreated while in custody. This evidence points to the
strong possibility that Fayez Qumsieh did not commit suicide, but died as
a result of a heart attack brought on by the strain of being mistreated.
The results of our investigation were presented to Professor Irwin Cotler,
an internationally known human rights lawyer, and legal counsel for the
PHRMG. He wrote to Attorney General Al-Qidrah and President Arafat on
March 24 as a representative of the Qumsieh family and the PHRMG. No
response to those letters has been received.
2. Qumsieh's Arrest, Detention and
General Intelligence officer Ibrahim Bajali
arrested Fayez Qumsieh on 7 March, 1996, and took him to the district
prison in Bethlehem. Qumsieh was later transferred to the Military
Intelligence (Istikhbarat) prison, which is in the same compound.
Formal charges were never pressed, and he was never brought before a judge
or the local prosecutor. Qumsieh was hospitalized more than once during
the first six months of his detention without his family being informed or
allowed to visit. Advocate Hashem Kawesmeh was then hired to represent the
family. During the next few months, visits were regular, but always
On January 6, 1997, Fayez was transferred to Al-Hussein Hospital because
he was suffering from his heart condition. Mrs. Helen Qumsieh told the
PHRMG that it was only during that visit to the hospital that she learned
of his torture, because for 9 days he remained unguarded, and she stayed
at his side. "He said that he admitted the charges (of murder) under
threats and severe beatings."
In his letter (mentioned above), Qumsieh describes his mistreatment at the
hands of his interrogators. He was usually questioned in the middle of the
night. The interrogators tied his hands behind his back, and covered his
head with a sack. On at least one occasion a baton with nails was used to
beat him. A witness (and fellow prisoner) named Samih Darbani was allowed
to participate in the interrogation and beat Qumsieh for reasons which
Hashem Kawasmeh, Qumsieh's attorney, said that there was never an official
case number, file, or court date. Attempts to release Qumsieh on bail
failed. The local prosecutor, Ahmed Toubasi was repeatedly asked to let
the family know of the charges and the court date. Each time Toubasi told
the family that he would be released in a few days.
Specifically, the Toubasi wrote to Al-Qidrah, asking that Qumsieh be
released because the case was so old. This letter was not answered. Less
than two months later, Qumsieh died.
3. Qumsieh's Last Day
On January 17, at 10:00 am, Helen. Qumsieh was
able to visit her husband in prison. The visit lasted twenty minutes.
Qumsieh seemed to be in good condition. "His spirits were very high, and
there were no marks on him. He asked for 15 packages of cigarettes per
week instead of 10 [the amount she usually brought]." He was given some
money to get through the week. He also asked to be transferred to another
prison, or at least a cell with more than one other cellmate.
That afternoon at 17:00, doctors informed the family that Qumsieh arrived
dead at Al-Hussein hospital in Beit Jala. The authorities phoned after the
hospital did with the same news. The official version, released by
the Bethlehem police to Israel Radio, was that Qumsieh committed suicide.
Also, prosecutor Toubasi told Bassem Eid that Qumsieh killed himself.
The family has told the PHRMG that signs of violence were visible on the
body. An autopsy was conducted in the presence of two doctors representing
the family. The doctors told the family that Qumsieh died as a result of a
heart attack. Despite repeated requests by the family, and a promise by
Toubasi to release the autopsy report to the press, it remains secret.
No evidence has been presented to support the
claim that Qumsieh killed himself. On the other hand, the reports of
Qumsieh's mistreatment, the refusal to release the autopsy, and the mute
response to the families demands for an investigation, give credence to
the view that Qumsieh was indeed tortured, and that this resulted in a
heart attack followed by death.
According to prosecutor Toubasi, a request to release Qumsieh was sent to
the Attorney General's office two months before his death, on the grounds
that the case was too old. The Attorney General never replied to this
request. A letter sent to Al-Qidrah was never answered.
C. Yussuf Ismail Al-Baba
As mentioned above, the death of Yussuf Al-Baba
had an effect on the Palestinian public and the PA's leadership. This
resulted in statements on human rights, promises to investigate, and the
arrest of suspects. It did not result in the release of an investigation,
a public trial for those responsible for Al-Baba's death, or reparations
for Al-Baba's family.
The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the
Environment (LAW) is the organization that brought the death of Al-Baba to
the attention of the public.
2. Al-Baba's Arrest and Detention
On January 3, Yussuf Al-Baba was asked by
employees of the District Governor in Nablus to come to the Governor's
office to discuss a private matter. Al-Baba called his family to let them
know that he would be with the Governor in the afternoon. At the time, he
had in his possession approximately $30,000 in US dollars, Jordanian
Dinars, and Israeli Shekels.
On the third day of his absence, someone who had been in jail told the
family that Al-Baba was in the military headquarters. The family went
there and asked why Al-Baba was being held. They were told that it was on
the order of the Governor.
One week after Al-Baba was detained, the family went to the Governor to
ask why Al-Baba was imprisoned. They did not get an answer. The family
attempted to use their many connections to powerful individuals and
lawyers to try and see him. The Governor intervened by forbidding anyone
to visit Al-Baba. Asked why, he replied that the suspect had refused to
pay $15,000 in bail.
3. Al-Baba's Death
On the advice of lawyers, the family complained
to the district prosecutor Ibrahim Amrou. On January 23, a formal letter
of complaint was sent to Police District Commander Saadi Al-Naji,
expressing concern for Al-Baba's life and safety and demanding the right
to visit him and learn of the charges against him. The Commander promised
to settle the matter soon, and have Al-Baba released.
On February 1, the family heard on Israel Radio that Al-Baba had been
tortured to death.
In the following days, senior officials admitted that the actions of the
security forces were unjustifiable. Justice Minister Freih Abu-Medein said
that Al-Baba "had been illegally imprisoned and was subjected to extreme
torture which led to his death." Human rights organizations in Palestine
and internationally joined in criticizing the PA for this additional death
in custody, the twelfth since the arrival of the PA in 1994. Letters sent
to Abu-Medein and Legislative Council Chairman Ahmed Qrei' on May 1 have
not been answered.
additional death in custody, the twelfth since
the arrival of the PA in 1994. Letters sent to Abu-Medein and Legislative
Council Chairman Ahmed Qrei' on May 1 have not been answered.