Arafat responds to lawless police by quickly executing two officers Abuses by security forces lead to first executions by 4-year-old authority

September 09, 1998|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM -- On the day of the execution, Palestinian lawmaker Dr. Jawad Al-Tibi took his place among the witnesses. As the firing squad aimed its rifles at the two Palestinian brothers convicted of murder, Al-Tibi covered his eyes. Though 32 people have been sentenced to death by Palestinian courts, the afternoon executions were a first for him and his government.

As a physician, Al-Tibi shuddered at his obligation that day. As an elected official of the Palestinians' 4-year-old self-rule authority, he recognized the necessity of carrying out the death sentences imposed on Raed and Mohammed Abu Sultan.

The brothers, both Palestinian policemen, were executed Aug. 30 in a courtyard in Gaza. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat gave the go ahead amid increasing citizen complaints about the conduct of Palestinian security forces. The Abu Sultans had killed two other brothers, Majdi and Mohammed Al Khalidi, in a family dispute the day before.

Political allies

The Khalidis were members of Arafat's Fatah political faction; Majdi Al Khalidi also worked for the Palestinian General Security Services.

"It was a message to everyone who intends to perform any of these crimes, the punishment is waiting for him," said Al-Tibi.

The executions followed a quick military trial that Arafat had ordered. Palestinian human rights groups decried the swiftness of the trial, charging that the suspects had been denied due process. But their concerns couldn't compete with the chorus of complaints against the Palestinian security forces.

To many in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the case was yet another example of the lawlessness within the security establishment.

Allegations of misconduct lodged against Palestinian law enforcement members have increased along with the size of the force. Since the Palestinian self-rule authority was established in 1994, its security forces have more than tripled to about 30,000, despite a stipulation in the Oslo peace accords that they number no more than 12,000.

Local and international organizations -- including a United Nations committee -- often have criticized the Palestinian authority for human rights abuses.

At least 20 Palestinians have died in custody of the Palestinian authority, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. Bassem Eid said his organization's investigation found a pattern of illegal detention and torture by the security forces.

In the first six months of this year, Eid's group has documented 70 cases of Palestinians who alleged they were tortured in Palestinian jails.

Israeli 'collaborators' killed

Amnesty International today cited the Palestinian authority for human rights abuses, including torture. It said most of the 20 detainees who died in the authority's custody were suspected of "collaborating" with Israel.

A Palestinian human rights group recently issued a 31-page report that accused members of the security forces of illegally detaining tax evaders, torturing them and demanding payment of taxes before their release.

Cited in the report was the case of Ibrahim Hussein al-Shawahin. In an interview, Shawahin said he was jailed for nearly a year on suspicion of tax fraud. He said security forces demanded he pay them the taxes he allegedly owed to win his release.

Al-Shawahin said he paid $66,000, although he denied he owed that much money. Several months later, al-Shawahin said he was rearrested and held for 45 days and tortured until he paid an additional $8,100.

The report went on to say that "when payments were made [to the security forces], it is unclear who received the fines, the [security forces] or the Ministry of Finance."

Eid said his group uncovered many instances in which Palestinians were guilty of tax violations. But he said the security forces were not the proper authorities to be handling these matters.

Mistreatment denied

Jibrin Bakri, an official with the Palestinian Preventive Security Services, told the Associated Press that his agents only investigated criminal wrongdoing in tax matters. Bakri also denied suspects in custody were mistreated.

In the past, Eid worked for the Israeli human rights group jTC B'Tselem investigating cases of Palestinians who were tortured by Israeli security forces -- complaints that have been documented over the years by various human rights groups. Amnesty International did so again today.

Human rights groups also cite the Palestinian authority for detaining political prisoners without charging them with a crime.

The human rights group LAW charged that the Palestinian authority illegally holds Palestinians who are members of the Islamic group Hamas in response to U.S. and Israeli pressure to crack down on terrorism.

Pub Date: 9/09/98

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