GAZA CITY -- First reports emerging from the Palestinian Authority's closed trials of Islamic militants indicate that tribunals are handing down summary verdicts after short court proceedings, some no longer than a few minutes.
In the last month, more than a dozen Palestinians have been sentenced in the authority's newly formed State Security Court to prison terms ranging from one year to life for crimes from possession of illegal weapons to inciting suicide attacks.
The trials began April 10, a day after two suicide bombings in the Gaza Strip killed seven Israeli soldiers and an American college student.
The authority has come under heavy pressure from Israel and the United States to prosecute Muslim militants responsible for such attacks, which have taken more than 65 lives in the last year.
A Palestinian civil rights commission headed by Hanan Ashrawi, a former spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation at Middle East peace talks, called for the disbanding of the security court, accusing it of "violations of the legal rights" of defendants.
The trials have been held secretly at night, with judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers drawn from the Palestinian security forces.
Defendants' families have not been given advance notice of the trials, and usually learn of the results from news organizations. Requests by human rights monitors and journalists to observe the proceedings have been denied.
Families of the first two Palestinians sentenced last month have not been allowed to visit them since the trials. But relatives of three other convicted prisoners have seen them in jail and have heard their versions of what happened.
Raed al-Atar and Mohammed Abu Shamala of Rafah, members of the militant group Hamas, were sentenced April 16 to two years in jail for training with illegal weapons. They told relatives that their trial had been held at midnight and lasted only a few minutes, with an officer reading out the charges and pronouncing their sentences. They reported that when they had been taken from their cells three hours earlier, they had been told that they would be released.
Mohammed al-Simri, a Hamas member sentenced April 17 to seven years for transporting explosives, told relatives that his trial had lasted from midnight to 3 A.M. before a tribunal of two officers and that he had been given a court-appointed lawyer. His own lawyer was not told in advance of the hearing.
A delegation from the human rights group Amnesty International that visited Gaza last week was denied access to trials and barred from seeing copies of charge sheets and was unable to obtain trial transcripts. It was also unable to meet with court officials.