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Ministry: Detainees still held in solitary confinement

Oct. 26, 2011 6:24 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 27, 2011 10:09 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- The Israeli prison administration has not fulfilled its commitment to stop holding Palestinian prisoners in solitary confinement, the ministry of prisoner affairs in Ramallah said Wednesday.

Around 20 detainees are still in isolation despite Israel's pledge to end the practice following a 3-week mass hunger strike in jails across Israel to protest the policy, the ministry said in a statement.

Prisoners suspended the strike on Oct. 17 after they said Israel had announced it would meet the strikers' key demand.

Israel promised that detainees would be released from isolation immediately after 477 prisoners were released in a swap deal to free captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on Oct. 18, minister of detainees affairs Issa Qaraqe said, announcing the agreement.

Some prisoners who remain in solitary confinement have been in isolation cells for many years, including Hassan Salama, Ahmad al-Mughrabi, Abdullah al-Barghouthi and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine secretary-general Ahmad Saadat, the ministry noted.

The UN special rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez told a UN General Assembly panel last week that all governments should ban solitary confinement except in extreme circumstances.

"Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole ... whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by states as a punishment or extortion technique," he said.

He also said indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should be ended, citing studies that have established that lasting mental damage is caused after a few days of isolation.

"Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles," he said.

Meanwhile, detainees affairs ministry lawyer Shireen Iraqi said the Israeli prisons administration had implemented new ways to punish detainees. Prison officials have closed the accounts of 28 prisoners so they cannot receive money from their families, she said.

Families in Gaza are still unable to visit relatives in Israeli jails.

Israel banned families in Gaza from visiting detained relatives in 2007 after militants in Gaza detained Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, a move widely criticized as a form of collective punishment.

In June, the International Committee of the Red Cross called on Israel to lift the ban, noting that under international humanitarian law, detainees held in relation to the conflict had a right to family visits.

"The decision by the Israelis is of particular consequence for children, whose ties to their detained parents may become frayed or may even be severed," ICRC said in a statement.
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