The Palestinian Centre for Human rights (PCHR) calls for an independent investigation into the death of 44 year old Majd al-Barghouthi, who died on Friday 22 February, while in illegal detention, administered by the General Intelligence Service (GIS) of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. There is evidence that prior to his death Majd al-Barghouthi was subjected to torture and ill-treatment, and might also have been a victim of medical negligence during his detention.
According to investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 17:30 on Thursday, 14 February, two civilian vehicles with Palestinian registration plates moved into Koubar village, northwest of Ramallah. When Sheikh Majd ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Mustafa al-Barghouthi, emerged from the local mosque, he was confronted by four masked persons. Al-Bargouthi called for help, at which point a man got out of one of the vehicles and introduced himself as an officer of the Palestinian GIS. He claimed he had a warrant to arrest al-Barghouthi, who was immediately transferred to the GIS Headquarters in the north of al-Bireh for interrogation. During his detention, Majd al-Bargouthi was denied visitors.
On the evening of Friday, 22 February, Majd al-Barghouthi’s body was transferred to Khaled Hospital in Ramallah. The Palestinian Attorney General ordered an autopsy to be performed at the forensic medicine institute in Abu Dis. According to the forensic report – a copy of which has been obtained by PCHR – “the cause of death was the inflation and subsequent failure of the heart. Having inflated to a size above normal, the heart failed, and under these circumstances, death is often sudden.”
However, in an affidavit given to PCHR, a Palestinian who had been detained by the GIS at the same time as Majd al-Barghouthi alleged that al-Barghouthi was violently beaten whilst in detention. The detainee claimed he recognized al-Bargouthi’s voice calling for help from an interrogation room opposite his own cell. He also alleged that he could hear al-Bargouthi being interrogated about his relationship with the Executive Force of the Palestinian Ministry of Interior in the dismissed government in the Gaza Strip.
The detainee further alleged he could see al-Barghouthi through a hole in the wall of his cell, and that al-Barghouthi was handcuffed by an iron chain which was connected to the top of the window pane, suspending his body above the ground. On the third day of al-Bargouthi’s detention, the detainee said he heard an interrogator asking
Al-Barghouthi if he was vomiting before moving him to another cell.
The detainee indicated that al-Barghouthi was beaten about the abdomen during the early stages of his detention, and said he was screaming. The detainee also alleged that he was personally tortured whilst in detention. The PCHR field worker saw marks on al-Bargouthi’s hands that were consistent with being chained and suspended for a lengthy period.
The detainee eyewitness stated:
“… At approximately 08:30 on Thursday, 21 February, an officer came and asked Sheikh Majd al-Barghouthi to eat, and to drink water and juice, but he [Al-Barghouthi] vomited. I then heard the cell door being opened. Through a small hole in the wall, I saw the officer pulling Sheikh al-Barghouthi, with his hands under the Sheikh’s shoulders. When the officer asked him to stand up, Al-Bargouthi replied that he could not stand anymore. In the afternoon, he was taken to the balcony, and I could hear him groaning until 08:30 on Friday morning (22 February). He then became silent.”
Al-Barghouthi was married with eight children. He was the Imam of the Koubar village mosque. His family denies that he was suffering from any of the symptoms identified in the autopsy report as causing his death.
Based on the investigations it has conducted, PCHR asserts the following:
1) PCHR has obtained evidence – the eyewitness’ affidavit, photographs of the victim’s body and the indications in the autopsy report that “there were acute abrasions on the forehands, and his thighs and knees were discolored” – which indicates al-Barghouthi, was subjected to torture and ill-treatment during his detention by the GIS of the Palestinian government in Ramallah.
2) According to the autopsy, the cause if death was a serious and chronic heart ailment. However, the GIS did not call a doctor to attend to al-Barghouthi which was their legal responsibility. If the GIS had called a doctor whilst continuing to detain al-Bargouthi, it would still in both cases be legally responsible for his wellbeing and subsequent death.
3) During his detention, al-Bargouthi was denied access to legal council and to his family. His brother stated that his family attempted to visit al-Bargouthi at the GIS Headquarters, but were denied access.
4) Torture is prohibited under Palestinian law, and constitutes a serious violation of international human rights standards and instruments, especially the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984. PCHR asserts crimes of torture must always be pursued, and the perpetrators always brought to justice.
In light of the above, PCHR calls for:
1) The establishment of an independent enquiry into the cause of the death of Majd al-Barghouthi. If any persons are proved to have been involved in subjecting Majd al-Bargouthi torture or medical negligence, PCHR calls for their rigorous prosecution, and the rigorous prosecution of their superior officials.
2) Verification of the legality of the procedures used to arrest and detain Majd
3) An immediate and complete halt to political arrests in the OPT.
4) Immediate visits by the Attorney General and judges to official detention centers, in order to verify the legality of procedures adopted in arrests and detentions; and for all unofficial detention centers to be immediately and permanently closed.