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Amnesty International condemns 'arbitrary detention' of Palestinian circus performer

Dec. 14, 2016 5:34 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 15, 2016 9:48 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Human rights group Amnesty International condemned Israel on Wednesday for renewing the administrative detention of Palestinian circus performer Muhammad Faisal Abu Sakha for an additional six months on Sunday for the third time, saying the decision could amount to “arbitrary detention.”

Abu Sakha, 24, 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 has been held in Israeli prison without charge or trial under administrative detention for a year based on undisclosed evidence that even his lawyer is barred from viewing. His case has sparked international outcry against Israel’s use of administrative detention, almost exclusively used by the Israeli state against Palestinians.

On Sunday, Dec. 11, the detention order against the Palestinian circus performer was renewed for the third time, guaranteeing Abu Sakha's imprisonment for an additional six months.

While Israeli authorities are only permitted to sentence someone to administrative detention for a maximum of six months, the order can be renewed an indefinite amount of times without having to show evidence of wrongdoing.

In a statement released by Amnesty International, the group said that the lack of public evidence revealed against Abu Sakha, with the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) only stating that he represents a “threat to the state of Israel,” violates a “central tenet of fair trial standards.”

The group added that it feared that Israeli authorities “are using administrative detention as a method of punishing Muhammad Faisal Abu Sakha without prosecuting him, which would amount to arbitrary detention.”

Rights groups have long accused Israeli authorities of using administrative detention to imprison Palestinian activists, journalists, students, and politicians without any proof of wrongdoing in order to disrupt social and political life in the occupied Palestinian territory.

“Israel’s use of administrative detention itself may amount to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, given the detainee’s inability to know why they are being detained or when they will be released,” the statement concluded.

Abu Sakha was apprehended at the Zaatara checkpoint near Nablus in the occupied West Bank while travelling from his parents' home in Jenin 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 2015, 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.

According to Amnesty International, a hearing on Abu Sakha’s case for a military judge was scheduled on Dec. 13 this week at Israel’s Ofer military court. However, the court session was postponed and has not yet been rescheduled. “It is extremely unlikely they will cancel the order,” Amnesty International said.

Earlier this month, a petition to release Abu Sakha was rejected by Israel’s Supreme Court, after only 15 minutes of deliberation based on “the same secret evidence opinion produced by the Military Prosecutor in December 2015,” that was used to justify his administrative detention order, according to a statement released Saturday by the Palestinian Circus School in Ramallah.

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.”

A similar statement released by 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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