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Confining Barghouti’s voice

Al-Ahram Weekly – 12 December 2002

Israel is keeping Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti in solitary confinement for giving a press interview. Is this a telling sign for the fairness of his upcoming trial.
 
Marwan Barghouti, the Fatah leader being held by Israel on terrorism charges, was placed in solitary confinement for five days over the Eid Al-Fitr weekend as punishment for giving an interview through one of his lawyers, Khader Shkirat, to the media last week.
 
His legal team said Barghouti was being “victimised” for expressing his political views and that this did not bode well for his receiving a fair criminal trial, expected to begin early next year.
 
Although in the interview Barghouti criticised Palestinian leaders, and implicitly Yasser Arafat, by saying they should “leave their positions after failing in their roles and responsibilities”, it was his comments advocating the continued militarisation of the Intifada that angered the Israeli authorities.
 
Barghouti told the American wire agency AP: “Resistance is a holy right for the Palestinian people to face the Israeli occupation. Nobody should forget the Palestinians negotiated for 10 years and accepted difficult and humiliating conditions and in the end didn’t get anything except authority over the people, but no authority or sovereignty over the land.”
 
A disciplinary hearing was hurriedly convened by the Prison Authority in Haderim jail, near Tel Aviv, on Wednesday 4 December, the day the interview was published, at which Barghouti was sentenced to five days’ solitary confinement and banned from receiving visitors, except his lawyers, for 30 days.
 
The basis for the punishment was a Prison Authority internal order, issued in May 2002, banning prisoners from giving interviews to the media. An Authority spokeswoman Orit Messer-Harel said Barghouti had been aware of the order and had chosen to break it.
 
But Shkirat accused Israel’s internal security minister, Uzi Landau, of ordering the disciplinary hearing against Barghouti. “Barghouti was expressing his point of view democratically about internal issues in the Palestinian society, and there is nothing that can justify taking such acts against him,” Shkirat said.
 
Jawad Boulos, another lawyer, managed to see Barghouti briefly last Friday after being refused access on Wednesday and Thursday. He said Barghouti had been held in a cell measuring some 2 metres by 1.5 metres, with no windows and only a bed and toilet inside. He was also banned from showering.
 
“The government is trying to silence and humiliate Marwan in a brutal fashion,” Boulos said. “If he is allowed to talk in court why can’t he speak from his cell. He is a political leader and has the right to make his views known to his people.”
 
He added that Barghouti had been told by the prison governor that he would be freed from confinement if he wrote a letter to the authorities apologising for his statements.
 
Barghouti also warned that the prison authorities were trying to escalate tension with the political prisoners and said the atmosphere was “very fragile”.
 
Eleven inmates who staged a show of support for Barghouti last week were also put in solitary confinement, according to Boulos.
 
Adalah, the legal centre for the Arab minority in Israel, petitioned Tel Aviv district court last Friday for Barghouti’s release from confinement. They are arguing that the isolation of a prisoner for expressing his views violates his human rights as well as breaking Israeli laws on human dignity.
 
Abeer Baker, who submitted the petition, said the legal centre had only become aware of the case because of reports in the Israeli media. The case was scheduled for a hearing on Sunday, although the judge David Bar-Ophir agreed to a postponement until Monday — the day of Barghouti’s release — to give the Prison Authority more time to prepare its case.
 
The judge is due to give his verdict in writing next week.
 
Baker said: “We were very disappointed that the court did not issue a temporary order releasing Barghouti on Sunday while the constitutional implications were being considered. The judge did not seem to appreciate the severity of the punishment: he said it was only one more day in solitary confinement so it was not so bad for Barghouti.
 
“In effect the judge approved Barghouti’s continuing punishment because the Prison Authority had failed to get itself organised in time for the hearing.”
 
Adalah has challenged the disciplinary order on the grounds that the Prison Authority’s jurisdiction is restricted to matters of prison security and order, not the censorship of political views. “If Barghouti broke Israeli law by giving the interview then the right place for this to be considered is a court of law not a disciplinary hearing,” Baker said.
 
Earlier political statements by Barghouti, relayed by lawyers, have not led to his punishment. In May Barghouti even told of his torture at the hands of his Shin Bet interrogators while meeting with Shkirat and Adalah’s director, Hassan Jabareen.
 
Meanwhile, in another attack on the rights of political prisoners, Israel’s Prison Authority has prohibited inmates from registering for various correspondence courses with the Open University. Adalah notes that some 24 courses, mostly dealing with politics, history or religion, have been banned over the past few months. The Authority says course materials may incite inmates and threaten prison security.

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