The human rights of prisoners and detainees
inside Palestinian prisons and jails are violated. This takes the form of
poor physical conditions leading in the prisons, problems with food, and
problems emanating from the lack of clear procedures or policy.
Admittedly, this is not true in every case, but the level of violations is
significant and encompasses a majority of prisoners.
Most prisoners are held without an arrest warrant. Palestinian detention
facilities routinely accept prisoners without making adequate records, and
without demanding that the prisoner have a commitment order signed by a
relevant authority, such as a judge. Inside the prisons, many are
tortured, and those no longer being interrogated often suffer substandard
conditions that are in themselves a violation of human rights, as detailed
in this chapter. This status quo of ongoing violations stands in violation
of the Palestinian Authorities human rights undertakings.
B. Ongoing Human Rights
Violations Within the Prisons
1. Visits by Attorneys and
From Principles 18 & 19 - Body of
Principles: A detained or imprisoned person shall be entitled to
communicate and consult with his legal counsel.
A detained or imprisoned person shall have the right to be visited by and
to correspond with, in particular members of his family....
It is unclear who is responsible for allowing
visits to prisoners. The prison authorities often demand authorization
from the district prosecutor, the chief of police, or both. Prison
directors have ignored letters from Attorney General Al-Qidrah,
authorizing visits. In some cases, the district prosecutor refused to
permit a legal visit without permission from the chief of police, who
would not take responsibility for either permitting or denying such a
On the other hand, at least one prison director
has shown great flexibility in allowing visits. For example, students from
Bir-Zeit University were permitted to receive visitors on short notice,
including extended visits for the purpose of taking exams. Elsewhere, one
prison director refused to allow a visit despite an authorization letter
written by the Attorney General.
Hiliel Abu Sitta, father of Rajeh Abu-Sitta,
sentenced to death on October 22, 1996: "Only after a month were
we allowed to visit him. We heard about his trial and sentence for the
first time on Israeli Radio in Arabic."
2. Locating Prisoners
Principle 16: - Body of Principles:
Promptly after arrest and after each transfer from one place of detention
or imprisonment to another, a detained or imprisoned person shall be
entitled to notify or to require the competent authority to notify members
of his family ... of his arrest, detention, or imprisonment or of the
transfer and of the place where he is kept in custody.
There is no central authority responsible for
informing families of the location of a detainee. Detention centers are
not in the habit of contacting the families of detainees. Prisoners are
not allowed to contact their families on their own. If no one was present
during the arrest to alert the family, they are then forced to search
detention facilities for their relative.
Nasser Abu Seif: "Six months after the arrest of my son
in Jericho, I heard about it for the first time. I went to the various
security agencies, but they all denied having my son A'adel. I went to the
prosecutor in Jericho and I told him that my son was arrested in Jericho,
and he told me that if my son was being held, just wait for him to be
During the arrest of Yussuf Al-Baba, the family
was unaware that the Military Intelligence was holding him for 2 days.
After his death, Minister of Justice Freih Abu-Medien admitted that there
was no record of Al-Baba's whereabouts during his detention, which was
illegal in any case. This is despite the fact that the family had
approached a police commander and the local prosecutor weeks before
3. Contact With the Outside
Principle 28: - Body of Principles:
"A detained or imprisoned person shall have the right to obtain within the
limits of available resources, reasonable quantities of educational,
cultural, and informational material...."
There are no procedures for allowing televisions,
radios, and printed material into the prisons. Many prisoners are denied
access to any information from outside the prison. There is no regular
service for mail to and from the prisons. However there is no policy;
prison directors are free to decide for themselves what will be permitted
in their institution. One of the demands of prisoners on hunger strike in
March was regular access to newspapers (see below).
4. Visits by Human Rights
There are no clear procedures for visits to
prisons by Palestinian human rights organizations. The director of each
detention facility is solely responsible for determining if a human rights
organization may visit a prison or not. Today, the chief of police and the
district prosecutor can also prevent such visits - although they do not
have the power to permit them.
However, some human rights activists and organizations have told the PHRMG
that they are usually allowed unrestricted access to certain prisons, with
the exception of persons under interrogation. It can be said that the
problem is the lack of clear regulations, with access reasonable in some
prisons, and unreasonable in others. As of December 1996, the Red Cross
has been allowed access to all Palestinian prisons.
LAW, the Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment
has accused the PA of issuing orders to prevent its lawyers from entering
the prisons or meeting with prisoners that the organizations is
representing. The Mandela Institute reports that it is unable to visit all
5. The Right to Make Complaints
Principle 33: - Body of Principles:
A detained or imprisoned person or his counsel shall have the right to
make a request or complaint regarding his treatment, in particular in case
of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment... to
appropriate authorities vested with reviewing or remedial powers.
Prisoners often voice complaints to the prison
director, or senior prison guards, regarding bad conditions or treatment
by one of the guards. These complaints are 'unofficial' and do not receive
Testimony of Fawzi Hanatsheh:
"After my release I went to the office of Colonel Musa Arafat and showed
him the signs of my beatings from Captain Samour. He called Samour. Musa
Arafat told Samour to arrest those responsible for beating me." [Samour
was one of the perpetrators. We have not been able to verify that any
steps were taken following this conversation.
Testimony of Hisham Mazhar: "I handed in a letter of
complaint on 19/11/96 to the office of the Governor of Ramallah, and in it
I detailed all that happened to me. The assistant of the Governor took the
letter and told me that he would be in touch with me. Until today, no one
has contacted me about my complaint."
6. Separation of Prisoners
There is no distinction made between minors and
adults, sick and healthy prisoners, convicted prisoners and detainees
before or after trial, criminal or political prisoners, or hard criminals
and those with a clean record. This is one of the major complaints made by
prisoners, and the focus of a hunger strike in March (see below).
7. Medical Treatment
Principle 24: - Body of Principles:
A proper medical examination shall be offered to a detained or
imprisoned person as promptly as possible after his admission to the place
of detention or imprisonment, and thereafter medical care and treatment
shall be provided whenever necessary. This care and treatment shall be
provided free of charge.
Prisoners are not seen by a doctor when they
enter detention facilities, except in rare cases. In most facilities,
there is no doctor available on a regular basis. Families must purchase
medicine for the prisoners, and the facilities do not have a stock of
medicine intended for prisoner use. When a prisoners is sick, either with
a pre-existing condition or an illness developed in prison, the treatment
is not documented in a medical file that travels with the prisoner from
prison to prison, or to the hospital and back to the prison. Medical
information is unavailable to judges and prison administrators to use when
making decisions about the prisoner.
In the case of Majed Yussuf, interrogators questioned him for many days
without being seen by a doctor - although they were aware that he was in
need of medicine for a pre-existing illness. As detailed elsewhere in this
report, prisoners under interrogation are often beaten, whipped, tied for
many hours and suffer other methods. Very few of the victims ever see a
The quality and quantity of the food in prison is
poor, and does not satisfy the needs of the prisoners. Families are
allowed to bring food into the prison, and in some cases a prisoner is
allowed to go to the market to buy food for himself and others.
Testimony of 'Fathi': "Most of our meals were just eggs
and potatoes. We didn't get any fruit."
9. Hygienic Conditions
The prisoners are not supplied with adequate
facilities for personal hygiene. In some cases they are not provided with
access to showers, soap, and/or cleaning materials.
Testimony of 'Hatem.': "I didn't shower for 13 days even
though I was bleeding from my face."
A letter from Tel El-Hawa: "...In these condition,
diseases spread and they can't be stopped."
Prisoners are not supplied with clothes.
Prisoners denied visits must remain in the clothes they were arrested in
for long period of time.
C. Resistance Inside the
Prisons: Hunger Strikes
On February 21, 7 prisoners, all sentenced by the
State Security Court, began a hunger strike. Ahmad Sa'adat and Mahmoud
Fanoun joined on February 27, but were released the same day (the day of
National Dialogue in Nablus). The demands of the hunger strikers were to
cancel the State Security Court, to be transferred from Jericho to prisons
nearer their families, to be separated from criminal suspects, and to
continue their education while imprisoned.
The hunger strike ended March 4. The prisoners remained in Jericho, the
SSC was not abolished, they remain imprisoned with criminal suspects, but
will be allowed to continue their studies from prison.
From March 6 to March 11, nearly 150 political
prisoners from Gaza went on hunger strike to protest prison conditions.
The strikers were from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the PFLP.
The demands included: separation between political and criminal prisoners,
regular weekly visits, free and open visits with family members, longer
exercise hours under the sun (in response to the many skin diseases in
prison), improved health care, improved lights in the cells, access to
television, use of refrigerators for food, improved hygienic facilities,
and newspapers. The strikers also protested against the sentences handed
down by the State Security Courts, and demanded that prisoners convicted
by the SSC's be released.
On March 10, a delegation of Hamas leaders met with prison administrators
in Sarraya prison in Gaza. The hunger strike ended (although the Islamic
Jihad prisoners continued for another three days), and the prisoners are
now receiving regular weekly visits, open contact visits with their
younger children, and separate quarters for political and criminal
D. The PA Draft Prison Law
The Interior Ministry has drafted a prison law,
and presented it to the public at a conference organized by the
Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen's Rights (PICCR). The
drafting of a proposed law, and the effort to engage in dialogue with the
human rights community represent a worthy effort in the attempt to
introduce the rule of law in the prison system, which is today absent. For
example, the law provides for regular inspections, aimed at ensuring the
proper treatment of prisoners, food, and hygienic conditions. Judges are
called on to accept complaints by prisoners.
However, the draft law contains numerous flaws. The most significant are
flaws of omission; there is no mention of the rights of prisoners to
internationally recognized minimum standards of treatment, as outlined in
the UN document Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The
PA has undertaken the protection of human rights according to
international standards, and therefore should use those standards in
drafting its prison law.
Prisoners Should have the right to complain about any abuses or inhumane
prison conditions to which they have been subjected. These complaints
should be dealt with by an authority capable of investigating complaints
and protecting the rights of prisoners. They have the right to food,
water, facilities for personal hygiene, medical attention, light,
ventilation, exercise, and space in amounts that meet international
standards. The draft law does not specify the standards that will be used
in evaluating prisoners conditions.
Prisoners have the right to be separated. "(b) Untried prisoners shall be
kept separate from convicted prisoners; (c) Persons imprisoned for debt
and other civil prisoners shall be kept separate from persons imprisoned
by reason of a criminal offense; (d) Young prisoners shall be kept
separate from adults."
Ominously, the draft law includes a provision for flogging prisoners as a
punishment for offenses taking place while incarcerated. This section
should be removed in accordance with the SMRTP which states that "(31)
Corporal punishment, punishment by placing in a dark cell, and all cruel,
inhuman or degrading punishments shall be completely prohibited as
punishments for disciplinary offenses." A provision for treatment of
prisoners awaiting the death penalty also exists - even before the
Legislative Council has voted in favor of the existence of the death
penalty in Palestine.
The draft law denies visits by legal representatives of prisoners, without
the approval of an outside authority - an investigation judge. Convicted
prisoners must have the unconditional right to meet with legal counsel,
subject to temporary restrictions as needed on an individual basis, as
provided by law.
The fact that the law was discussed in a human rights forum with the
participation of Palestinian human rights organizations and PA officials
is very important. Such cooperative efforts must continue.
The Occupied Territories Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1996, released by the US Department of State on January 30,
1997, defined the prison conditions in Israel as poor. The situation of
Palestinian prisons was defined as very poor.
The multiplicity of sources of authority, coupled with the lack of clear
directives on prison policy, are the primary reason for the poor prison
conditions [not including mistreatment during interrogation]. The release
of established procedures covering visits, separation of prisoners,
quantity and quality of food, arrangements for better hygienic conditions,
and medical care, could have a significant effect on the conditions facing
prisoners in the PA.
Another obstacle is a lack of resources to improve the physical
facilities, and provide for the material needs of the prisoners. There is
room for a coordinated effort involving the Ministry of the Interior,
human rights organizations, charitable societies, and the donor countries,
to improve the conditions of prisons in the PA.
- To pass a law spelling out the rights of
prisoners and detainees, and the minimum conditions in which people may
be held. Legislation must include a prison ombudsman to which prisoners
can complain regarding treatment and conditions. This law should be in
accordance with international law on the treatment of prisoners.
- To issue preliminary regulations clearing up
the confusions in policy presented in this report.
- To ensure that detainees see a doctor upon
admittance to a detention facility. A doctor should be available at all
times in case of emergency. Prisoners must have access to adequate
medical care, including medicine.
- To guarantee access to legal and family
- Reading material and radios must be allowed
into the prisons.
doctor should be available at all times in case
of emergency. Prisoners must have access to adequate medical care,
including medicine. To guarantee access to legal and family visits.
Reading material and radios must be allowed into the prisons.