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Detained flotilla activists denied lawyer

June 1, 2010 12:44 P.M. (Updated: June 3, 2010 4:17 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Rights groups have expressed concern over the continued detention of 480 passengers from the six Freedom Flotilla ships, reportedly moved to the Ela Prison in Israel's south.

Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz said Tuesday that so far 50 of the Flotilla passengers had been voluntarily repatriated to their home countries, while some 629 had refused to be deported and would remain in Israeli prison until the nation decided what, if any, legal action would be taken.

Critics say Israel has little ground to lay charges, and by refusing to be deported and demanding to be returned to their ships and proceed to Gaza, activists put Israel in a difficult position.

According to a statement from the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, none of the activists were permitted to meet with lawyers, and Free Gaza updates say no contact with the crew of the ship had been made since 3:30am Monday morning.

As a response, three human rights organizations submitted a petition to the Israeli High Court.

The petition seeks to ensure that the passengers have access to lawyers and proper health facilities, and to ensure that information about the hundreds of men and women is released to their consulates and families.

Israeli media said that the 480 would be questioned Tuesday morning, and investigators would determine whether or not they would be charged or deported. Reports say 48 have already been deported, but there is no information suggesting that any have had contact with either their consulates or the media.

It remains unclear what the activists would be charged with, as lawyers and rights experts say ships in international waters have the right to defend themselves if attacked.

Media outlets also reported that Palestinian citizens of Israel Sheikh Raed Salah, Muhammad Zeidan and Hammad Abu Da'bas will stand in Israeli court later Tuesday, where they will hear charges against them.

Sheikh Raed Salah, Muhammad Zeidan and Hammad Abu Da'bas to stand in Israeli court and hear charges against them Tuesday afternoon, Israeli media says.

Other Palestinian figures whose whereabouts has been reported on include Kamal Khatib, who is reportedly detained at Ela Prison, and Hanin Zubi, who was questioned and released.

A statement from Al-Mezan said that because the flotilla was intercepted in international waters, Israel has no right to detain the passengers of the boats, with the center's lawyer describing the treatment akin to how Israel "treats illegal immigrants; offering them voluntarily deportation from Israel by planes."

The reports said early indicators show that most of the activists have refused deportation and insist on returning to their ships to come to Gaza.

Al-Mezan said it expects all of the passengers to appear before a judge on Tuesday, where their detentions can be extended by 72 hours, adding that 'the situation for a handful of Palestinian citizens of Israel is different. They are detained in Ashkelon prison and are being interrogated."

Activists detained, imprisoned, questioned

Investigations by Al-Mezan revealed that after the passengers of the ships were seized by Israeli officers, they were kept in a detention facility in the port of the town of Ashdod in southern Israel. The port area was declared a closed military zone, a lawyer for the center said, meaning legal council for the foreign nationals was prohibited.
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