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Rights groups demand criminal investigation into release of Barghouthi video

May 11, 2017 4:19 P.M. (Updated: May 11, 2017 5:16 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) and the Palestinian Committee of Prisoners’ Affairs sent a joint letter to Israeli authorities demanding that a criminal investigation be opened against Israeli officials who published footage of imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti purportedly eating in his cell while leading a mass Palestinian prisoner hunger strike, according to an Arabic statement released on Thursday.

The letter was sent to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Israel Prison Service (IPS) consultant Yochi Ginsin.

Lawyers Muna Haddad from the committee and Yamin Zeidan from Adalah said in the statement that recording video of a Palestinian prisoner -- in which Barghouthi is allegedly being filmed in the bathroom -- and publishing it without verifying its accuracy and without regards for Palestinian prisoners’ right to dignity and privacy were enough grounds to open a criminal investigation into the incident.

“The aim of the video is to humiliate Marwan Barghouthi and distort his image in front of the public. The prison service has no jurisdiction to monitor prisoners by installing cameras in their cells -- except when necessary to maintain the safety of prisoners when they are in danger. But not to take footage of them and release it to the media,” the letter read.

Haddad and Zeidan demanded that IPS cease taking “illegal footage” of Palestinian prisoners, “especially when they are in the bathrooms,” and not publish any more videos that would violate the rights of the prisoners.

Barghouthi has been leading a mass hunger strike among Palestinians in Israeli prisons, which entered its 25th day on Thursday, with some 1,600 Palestinian prisoners participating. He has been held in solitary confinement since the start of the strike, as Israeli authorities have continually attempted to discredit Barghouthi in order to dismantle the leadership of the movement and break the steadfastness of the hunger strikers.

On Sunday, IPS released the video purportedly showing Barghouthi eating in his cell during the hunger strike. However, a committee formed to support the Palestinian hunger strikers quickly denounced the footage, calling the video’s release part of an Israeli “war of lies” to discredit the prisoner movement.

After the footage was published, one Facebook commentator, Naela Khalil, quoted a passage from Barghouti’s online book about life in solitary confinement. Barghouti wrote that back in 2004, Israel also disseminated a photo of him eating during a hunger strike, in an attempt to show other prisoners that “the leader of the strike is eating, and you are starving.” The photos, he argued, were taken by surveillance cameras before the strike had begun.

On Wednesday, the Palestine Prisoners’ Center for Studies said it was told by Palestinian prisoners in Negev prisons that several hunger strikers were shown pictures of Barghouthi eating during their court proceedings.

According to the center, the prisoners were told by Israeli Shin Bet officers “Marwan lets you starve while he eats,” almost directly reiterating comments made by Israeli officials during the strike in 2004 to delegitimize Barghouthi.

Despite numerous attempts to break the will of the hunger strikers and discredit Barghouthi, Palestinians across the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel, and throughout the diaspora have continued to organize solidarity events in support of the hunger strikers, with this week being declared a “Week of Rage” by leaders of the strike.

The week-long action was called after reports emerged that Israeli authorities were exploring the idea of bringing foreign doctors to Israel to force feed the prisoners, as Israeli doctors have refused to take part in force feeding due to it breaching international medical ethics.

Israeli authorities have detained approximately one million Palestinians since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in 1967, according to Palestinian organizations.

According to prisoners' rights organization Addameer, 40 percent of the male Palestinian population has been detained by Israeli authorities at some point in their lives. Rights groups have long accused Israel of using routine imprisonment as a tool to erode family and political life in the Palestinian territory.

Addameer has reported that some 6,300 Palestinians were held in Israeli custody as of April.
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