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UN warns of increase in 'arbitrary' detention of Palestinian activists by Israel

Dec. 17, 2016 3:35 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 18, 2016 11:24 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner released a statement on Friday condemning the “daily violations” of human rights and international law faced by human rights defenders in the occupied Palestinian territory.

A “worrying number of complaints” have been filed by human rights activists to the UN in recent months, which have highlighted in particular the Israeli government practice of arbitrarily detaining Palestinian activists “as a direct result of their important work in their communities.”

The statement, which drew from the investigations of two UN “independent experts,” highlighted the cases of Issa Amro, founder of the Hebron-based group Youth Against Settlements, and Hebron-area lawyer Farid al-Atrash, who were both arrested for participating in a peaceful protest in February.

The march commemorated the 22 years since extremist American-born Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire on Muslim Palestinian worshipers killing 29 and injuring more than 120 in Hebron’s Ibrahimi mosque in 1994.

The demonstration also called for the re-opening of al-Shuhada street, which was shut down soon after the massacre, and called for the removal of discriminatory restrictions on movement placed on Palestinians in the city.

During the protest, Israeli forces threw sound bombs and fired tear gas at the protesters.

Israeli officials later presented al-Atrash to the Ofer military court with charges amounting to “participating in an illegal demonstration” and “attacking soldiers,” according to Amnesty International.

Al-Atrash vehemently denied the charges, with video footage of the arrest corroborating his account, showing that he was standing and holding a poster peacefully in front of Israeli soldiers when he was pushed, dragged, and then violently arrested by a number of soldiers.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities handed Amro 18 charges, ranging from “insulting a soldier” to “assault,” and “participation in a rally without a permit,” with some of the charges dating back to 2010.

Throughout tens of years of his activism, Amro has been highly regarded by Palestinian and international activists for his unrelenting commitment to nonviolent peaceful protest.

“This relatively unusual practice of bringing up stale charges, which were not pursued many years ago, strongly suggests that Mr. Amro is being unfairly targeted due to his legitimate and peaceful human rights work,” the UN experts noted in Saturday’s statement.

The UN experts said Amro’s current trial was part of a “concerted pattern of harassment and intimidation by the Israeli authorities aimed at inhibiting his work as a human rights defender.”

“Charges of participation in a rally without a permit are nearly impossible to avoid for Palestinians in the West Bank who peacefully protest and oppose the almost 50 year-old occupation,” the statement said.

The statement went on to mention the cases of Hasan Safadi, media coordinator for prisoners rights group Addameer, whose three-month administrative detention order -- Israel’s policy of internment without charge or trial -- was renewed for an additional six months in December, as well as Salah Khawaja, a member of the Stop the Wall Campaign, who was arrested in October and remains in detention without charges.

“We call on the Israeli authorities to ensure fair trial guarantees for human rights defenders and respect their unfettered exercise of fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association,” the UN experts said.

“The right of all those who are seeking hope and participation in concrete, nonviolent action must be protected, particularly as we are seeing the deepening entrenchment of the Israeli occupation and the accompanying human rights violations."
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