Palestinian police tied to beating Prisoner's death raises questions on conduct

August 01, 1996|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- Mahmoud Jumayal lay broken and burned in a hospital bed, a victim of a beating so brutal it left him without thought, without speech, without any semblance of brain function. And then, last night, he died.

Until last weekend the 26-year-old Palestinian had been confined to a jail cell, detained since December when he was questioned about his involvement in a military wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

His interrogators? Members of a Palestinian police force, say human rights activists.

Jumayal's journey from jail cell to hospital bed to death represents the most serious example of alleged human rights abuses by the Palestinian authority against its own people, said Khader Shkirat, a Palestinian lawyer who heads a Jerusalem-based human rights group. They include the arrest of an outspoken doctor on false charges of drug dealing, harassment of Palestinian journalists and mistreatment of prisoners.

Shkirat spoke bluntly of what had happened: "Tortured by the Palestinian security forces."

Jumayal's beating occurred in a prison in Nablus, where he had been taken Friday from his cell in Jericho. Jumayal was admitted to a Nablus hospital under a false name on Saturday and then transferred to a Ramallah hospital in critical condition. Yesterday, he was moved to Haddassah Hospital in Jerusalem, according to Shkirat.

The lawyer said Jumayal's family received a telephone call late Sunday, telling them he had been hospitalized.

After learning of the alleged beating of Jumayal, Palestinian authority President Yasser Arafat yesterday ordered an investigation and the arrest of the Palestinian police officers suspected of involvement.

"We will not forgive any mistake that happens," Arafat was quoted as saying during a meeting of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

But Shkirat and others were unimpressed. The 34-year-old Russian-trained lawyer called for an independent commission to look into the matter "and to insist the Palestinian authority to take measures to prevent repetition of this case."

An Arafat spokesman, Nabil Abourdene, said last night that Arafat supported human rights and has issued an executive order upholding them. "And anyone abusing it should be punished," the spokesman said.

The boyish-looking Shkirat has reason to be wary of the president's intentions.

Since June, he has twice appeared before the Palestinian High Court to challenge the detention of Palestinian citizens. The first case involved Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a psychiatrist who runs a community mental health center in Gaza. Sarraj also heads a Palestinian citizen rights commission.

Palestinian security forces arrested Sarraj in May after the New York Times quoted him criticizing Arafat. They rearrested him in June, charging him with assaulting a police officer and with drug possession.

The drug charges were eventually dropped, and Sarraj, who said he was roughed up in jail, was released June 26.

The high court declined to review Sarraj's detention, saying that his release made the inquiry pointless.

Shkirat and five other lawyers have become involved in another human rights case by suing the Palestinian authority to win release of 10 students from Bir Zeit University, who have been held for more than 100 days without charges. The students were picked up in a sweep by Palestinian security forces after the March bus bombings in Israel.

A week ago, Palestinian security forces caused another controversy by becoming involved in a dispute between an Arab-Israeli businessman in East Jerusalem and the Coptic Church. The businessman was taken from his home in the middle of the night, interrogated but released after intervention by Israeli police, according to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

The recent incidents are similar to those chronicled last summer in a report issued by B'Tselem, Israel's most prominent human rights watch group. The 60-page report detailed incidents of abduction, torture and other mistreatment of detainees in the West Bank by the Palestinian Preventive Security Service.

Amnesty International also has criticized the Palestinian authority's justice system, citing secret trials, failure to provide adequate counsel for defendants and mistreatment of prisoners.

"These violations are more painful than during the occupation," said Bassam Eid, a former investigator for B'Tselem who has resigned to form his own group, and who was detained by Palestinian police in January. "From your enemy you expect the worse. From your Authority, you will expect only good things."

Adds Shkirat: "The Palestinian authority are torturing their own people, who fight for this moment, to create this authority."

"If they continue with this practice, they will add a new dictatorship in the region."

Khalida Jarrar works for Addameer, a prisoner's support association. She doesn't excuse the authority for its alleged abuses of human rights, but she attributes some of the problems to politics.

Arafat is under pressure from the Israelis to crack down on terrorism. "After these bombings, the Israelis said you should arrest people," she said.

Ahmed al-Atawneh spends his nights in the Ramallah Central Prison. On some days, he and other Bir Zeit University students held there are permitted to leave the jail to attend school. They hail a cab and head for the campus. In late afternoon, they return to the prison where they have been held since March.

The students were among 900 Palestinians picked up in a sweep that followed terrorist bus bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The Human Rights Action Project of Bir Zeit University began campaigning for the students' release a month later.

"We are looking for a state and a society based on the rule of law," said Albert Aghazarian, a university spokesman. "We don't want it to be rhetorical."

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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