Palestinian writer detained without charge by Israeli authorities

From Amnesty International, May 10:

Israeli authorities should release or charge a Palestinian writer and academic held for almost three weeks in the occupied West Bank, Amnesty International said today. The Israel Security Agency (ISA) say they want to keep Ahmad Qatamesh in detention in connection with allegations of involvement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which he denies.

“We fear that Ahmad Qatamesh may be behind bars for no reason other than the peaceful expression of his political views,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“If this is so, Amnesty International would consider him a prisoner of conscience and call for his immediate and unconditional release.”

Israeli security forces raided Ahmad Qatamesh’s family home in Ramallah at around 1am on 21 April. When they did not find him at home they arrested him at his brother’s house nearby. He was questioned for 10 minutes after his arrest, the only time he has been asked about the allegations.

Ahmad Qatamesh became one of Israel’s longest-serving administrative detainees in the 1990s. He was arrested by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1992 and reportedly tortured, then placed in administrative detention more than a year later. Despite a lack of evidence presented against him, his detention orders were continually renewed until 1998 when he was freed in the midst of a sustained international campaign for his release.

Ahmad Qatamesh is known for his memoir of this time in detention, entitled “I shall not wear your tarboosh [fez]”.

Twelve days after his recent arrest, Ahmad Qatamesh was issued with a six-month administrative detention order after a military judge refused a request from the ISA to extend, for the second time, his detention for questioning.

The detention order appeared to have been produced for another person entirely—a Hamas suspect whose name was erased using correction fluid and replaced with that of Ahmad Qatamesh.

“The use of someone else’s detention order to hurriedly renew Ahmad Qatamesh’s detention seems to be a sign of the Israeli security forces’ cavalier attitude to due process for Palestinian detainees,” said Philip Luther.

On 8 May, the authorities replaced the flawed administrative detention order with a fresh one and presented it to a military judge, who will decide whether to reduce, cancel or confirm the period of detention.

The order now says Ahmad Qatamesh is being held for posing an unspecified security risk, but no evidence has been presented.

The judge has asked to see any secret evidence against Ahmad Qatamesh, which the ISA must present at a hearing on Thursday. The hearing will be closed with neither Ahmad Qatamesh nor his lawyer allowed to be present.

Israel’s administrative detention procedures allow for indefinite detention without charge or trial.

The authorities say that the detainees are a “security risk”, but do not tell them or their lawyers how they have made this assessment in order to allow them an effective opportunity to contest it.

“The Israeli authorities have used administrative detention to lock up hundreds of Palestinians arbitrarily for prolonged periods,” said Philip Luther. “Ahmad Qatamesh must either be released or be charged and given the chance to have his case heard in an open court.”

The PFLP is a left-wing Palestinian political party which also has an armed wing. While Ahmad Qatamesh was a political and intellectual supporter of the PFLP in the 1990s, he says he has not been involved with them for 13 years.

To Amnesty International’s knowledge, he has never been involved with the PFLP’s armed wing or advocated violence.

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