Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised Palestinian authorities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in its recent report for systematically torturing critics in detention, which could amount to crimes against humanity.
Entitled “Palestine: Impunity for Arbitrary Arrests, Torture”, the international rights group called for donor countries to cut off funding to Palestinian security forces that commit such crimes and urged the International Criminal Court to investigate.
The report found that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas both “commonly use positional abuse or shabeh, where officers placed detainees in painful stress positions for many hours at a time, using a mix of techniques that often left little or no trace on the body.”
“This tactic, which parallels years of Israeli practice against Palestinians, can amount to torture when it constitutes deliberate infliction of severe harm,” the report added.
HRW’s report comes a year after the death of Nizar Banat, a 43-year-old activist who was a stern critic of the PA and Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. His family says he died after security forces stormed his residence in the middle of the night and beat him with metal batons and has accused the PA of trying to cover up the details.
Protests over Banat’s death were responded with extreme violence by PA security agencies.
“More than a year after beating to death Nizar Banat, the Palestinian Authority continues to arrest and torture critics and opponents,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at HRW. “Systematic abuse by the PA and Hamas forms a critical part of the repression of the Palestinian people.”
The report includes a list of Palestinians who had been arbitrarily arrested in the aftermath of Banat’s death.
Hamza Zbeidat, 38, told HRW that PA police forces arrested him as he arrived at a planned August 2021 protest about Banat’s case. Prosecutors later charged Zbeidat with insulting “higher authorities”, “unlawful assembly” and inciting “sectarian strife”. He said he spent three nights in an overcrowded, tiny cell without proper ventilation and tested positive for Covid-19 several days after his release, with charges outstanding.
Meanwhile, HRW said security forces were not held to account for the alleged torture they imposed, which included the use of “solitary confinement and beatings, whipping their feet, painful stress positions for prolonged periods and hoisting their arms behind their backs with cables or rope.”
Palestine is part of the Convention Against Torture, which requires members to work to prevent torture.
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