Palestinians in Israeli Custody Must Have Phone Privileges
This morning, March 26, six Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations submitted an urgent petition to the High Court of Justice demanding that security inmates in Israeli prisons, denied all visits because of the Corona virus pandemic, be able to communicate with their families. The petition emphasizes that this contact is especially important for minors in detention.
The petition was submitted by HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, together with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Public Committee Against Torture, Physicians for Human Rights, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and Parents Against Child Detention.
On March 15, the Israeli government published an emergency regulation prohibiting all visits of attorneys and family members to prisons, as part of the measures to prevent the spread of the corona virus. Criminal prisoners in Israel have telephone contact with their attorneys and their families. However, the majority of Palestinians in Israeli custody – 4,636 prisoners and detainees as of March 3 – are defined as security inmates, and they are denied phone calls. Without visits, they are completely isolated from the outside world.
The petition devotes particular attention to the unique vulnerability, needs and rights of Palestinian minors. Some 200 Palestinian minors in Israeli custody (age 14-17) are defined as security inmates, and the regulations make no distinction between the rights and privileges of adults and children. Detention with its uncertainty and isolation is particularly traumatic for minors, making phone contact with their parents crucial.
"In the current uncertain situation, when we are all worried about the spread of the virus, people classified as "security inmates" are completely in the dark," said Attorney Nadia Daqqa of HaMoked who filed the petition. "Their families have no way of knowing what's going on with them, and they have no way of knowing how their families are faring in this pandemic. Holding people in such circumstances constitutes a violation of their rights to family life and to be treated with dignity."
"Despite of the emergency situation, Palestinian prisoners have the full right to be in connection with their families and the outside world," said Issam Younis, Executive Director of Al Mezan Human Rights Center. "Israel’s Prison Authority is obliged to fulfilling that basic human right immediately."
"The complete isolation of entire detention facilities raises fears that rights will be violated, with no avenue for redress," says Anat Litvin of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. "Security prisoners are at particularly high risk of corona virus infection due to over-crowding in the prisons."
"The Emergency Regulations severely and sweepingly harm basic rights of security detainees for a prolonged period of time," said Atty Abir Joubran Dakwar of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. "These inmates, and particularly minors, must be allowed phone contact with their immediate family as an alternative to visits."
"The complete isolation of Palestinian minors from the outside world, as the new regulations impose on these youth, has the potential for severe mental damage, says social worker Nirith Ben-Horin of Parents Against Child Detention. "Lack of contact with their family now, with the growing fears around the pandemic of a life-threatening disease is inhumane and dangerous."
"It is inconceivable that security prisoners will be left completely isolated with no contact with the outside world for many long weeks," said Atty Efrat Bergman-Sapir of PCATI. "This conduct is inhumane and violates the international prohibition on cruel and inhuman treatment. The Prison Service must enable prisoners to have contact with their families, if not through visits than at least through phone calls."
Two individuals joined the petition: the wife of a prisoner who suffers from serious medical problems; and the father of 15 year-old boy held in pre-trial detention at Meggido prison.