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Ref: 34/2017

On Tuesday morning, 25 April 2017, the Ministry of Interior in Gaza pronounced a detained person (M. B.) (43), from Khan Yunis, dead in Deir al-Balah detention facility. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) demands the Attorney General himself to follow up the investigation and publish its results. Preliminary indications show that the death circumstances were not normal. Moreover, PCHR calls upon the Ministry of Interior, Attorney General and Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) members to take a serious action to reform detention facilities in conformity with the relevant international standards.

Commenting on the incident in a statement posted on the Ministry’s website, Eyad al-Bozom, spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior, said, “… The detainee ]…[ was found in his room as a dead body when other inmates in the same room tried to wake him up. He was taken to the hospital and his body was examined at the forensic section that found out traces of a rope on his neck.  According to this, an investigation was open into the incident to identify the death circumstances.” Al-Bozom explained, “The deceased had been detained on grounds of a criminal charge since 15 February 2016….”

PCHR believes that the Ministry of Interior’s statement was brief and does not commensurate with the importance of the case. Besides, the statement is paradoxical in a manner, raising many questions. Finding traces of a rope on the neck of the deceased and finding him dead in the place where he used to sleep show the death was likely not normal and negates the possibility of committing suicide. It is further unreasonable that a crime whether suicide or something else had been committed in a detention cell and the inmates in the same room had no idea about it. This contradicts with the part of the story that his inmates found him dead when they tried to wake him up according to the Ministry of Interior’s narrative.

Based on PCHR’s follow-up and after pronouncing the detained person dead, dozens of his outraged family members went out into the streets in Khan Yunis yesterday, closed some shops in the city market and damaged some cars. After mediations between the family and Ministry of Interior, the family agreed to take and burry the body and to wait for the investigation results. Data available at PCHR indicates that the 6 inmates in the same cell have been interrogated about the incident.

The family refused yesterday to take the corpse. According to the statement given by the deceased’s uncle (65) to PCHR yesterday, the family received a phone call from the police, informing them their son had died. The uncle added that a group from the family headed to Dair al-Balah police station, where the police officer in charge told them there were traces of a rope on the deceased’s neck, so the corpse was taken to the forensic department in Gaza, waiting for the results. The uncle explained that his nephew was detained in a cell for hepatitis patients and they learnt about his death at 08:00 during the daily inmates count according to the prison director. He added that the family refused to take the corpse, which was in al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah, until the death circumstances and forensic examination results are revealed.

PCHR believes that conflict between the statements of the prison director and the Ministry of Interior’ spokesperson regarding the death circumstances raises questions and requires an intervention by the higher competent authorities to unveil the truth. PCHR is concerned as this is not the first case of its kind. A number of detainees previously died in similar circumstances or due to heart attacks in detention facilities throughout the Gaza Strip in the past years.

PCHR highlights that life of a detained person falls within the responsibilities of the Ministry of Interior’s Prison Service according to the Law of Reform and Rehabilitation Centers 6/1998. Article 7 of the Law stipulates, “…Inmates in any prison remain under the legal guardianship of the prison director….” Thus, PCHR calls for taking in consideration negligence that probably led to the death or crime during investigation.

PCHR stresses the responsibility of the competent authorities like the PLC members, Attorney General and judges to supervise the lawfulness and circumstances of detention according to article 70 of the Judicial Authority Law 1/2002 that grants the Attorney General and judges the right to supervise and inspect the conditions, wellness and lawfulness of detention.

In view of the abovementioned and PCHR’s follow-up of violations in detention facilities and prisons relevant to torture and inhumane and degrading treatment documented in a number of PCHR’s periodic reports, due to which 18 detainees died in prisons in the past years, PCHR calls for forming an independent committee to investigate to what extent detention conditions at prisons of Criminal Investigation and Internal Security Services are appropriate and go in conformity with the international standards of arrest and detention, especially the 1979 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners