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After a year in prison, Israeli court denies release of Palestinian circus performer

Dec. 10, 2016 5:19 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 11, 2016 9:06 P.M.)
Muhammad Faisal Abu Sakha (Photo: Power FM)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- After almost one year since Israeli authorities detained Palestinian circus performer Muhammad Faisal Abu Sakha, 23, and placed him under administrative detention, a petition to release him was rejected by the Israeli High Court, according to a Saturday statement from the Palestinian Circus School in Ramallah.

The statement said that after only 15 minutes of deliberation on Dec. 5, the court rejected the petition to release Abu Sakha based on “the same secret evidence opinion produced by the Military Prosecutor in December 2015,” that was used to justify his administrative detention order.

The only information provided over the course of Abu Sakha’s detention is that Israeli authorities have deemed him a “security threat,” something the school slammed as an “unfounded claim.”

The school highlighted the complete the lack of evidence against Sakha, as is typical of administrative detention -- Israel’s widely condemned policy of internment without charge or trial in maximum six-month long renewable intervals based on undisclosed evidence, that even a detainee’s lawyer is barred from viewing.

“As long as no charges and accessible evidence are formally brought against him, Abu Sakha will be prevented from defending himself and effectively denied his right to a fair trial,” the statement said.

The school urged foreign missions in Palestine who have previously spoken out against Israel’s administrative detention policy, to “put pressure on Israel to stop the arbitrary use of administrative detention and free all Palestinian administrative detainees or give them the right to a fair trial.”

The statement highlighted that the Dec.5 hearing was attended by the European Union representative office in Jerusalem, the Belgian Consulate General in Jerusalem, the Swiss Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority, the Spanish Cooperation Agency, Amnesty International, Terre Des Hommes Italy and International Solidarity Movement.

The European Union (EU) Representative, the EU Heads of Mission and the Heads of Mission of Switzerland and Norway in Jerusalem and Ramallah released a statement Thursday reiterating their "longstanding concern about the extensive use by Israel of administrative detention," highlighting Abu Sakha's case.

"The EU, Switzerland, and Norway call for the full respect of international human rights obligations towards all prisoners. Detainees have the right to be informed about the charges underlying any detention, must be granted access to legal assistance, and be subject to a fair trial," the statement concluded.

Abu Sakha was working as a circus performer and teacher at the Palestinian Circus School in Birzeit -- where he specialized in working with children with learning difficulties -- when he was detained on Dec. 14, 2015.

He was apprehended at an Israeli checkpoint while travelling from his parents' home to the circus school. He was initially held in Megiddo prison in northern Israel before later being transferred to Ktziot prison in the Negev.

At the end of December, the circus performer was sentenced by an Israeli military court to six months in administrative detention and in late March, an appeal by his lawyers against the sentence was dismissed.

Israeli authorities in June decided to extend the administrative detention of Abu Sakha, in spite of widespread outcry from activists and rights groups around the world demanding his release.

Israeli authorities ruled to extend his remand for another six months from June 13 until Dec. 12, in addition to the six months he had already served in administrative detention.

A statement from the circus school in June referred to the Israeli occupation as “a system that knows no humanity,” whose only goal is “to break the spirit of an entire nation.”

“You (the Israeli occupation) only make our resistance stronger. And the resistance of the Palestinian Circus School has always been and will continue to be injecting hope, love, and happiness in the hearts and minds of all Palestinians and all people that cross our path worldwide,” the school said.

According to prisoners rights group Addameer, as of October there were 7,000 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons, 720 of whom were administrative detainees.

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