JERUSALEM (AFP) – Palestinians being interrogated by Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet are routinely denied access to a lawyer and are often ill treated, an Israeli rights group said on Tuesday.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel said in a report made available to AFP that up to 90 percent of West Bank Palestinians interrogated by the agency, known as the General Security Service (GSS), were denied legal access.
Israeli civil and military law allows incommunicado detention in “emergency situations or unique cases,” the group said, but data collected between 2000 and 2007 showed denial of legal access was the rule rather than the exception for Palestinians being interrogated by the GSS in the West Bank.
The report, co-authored with the Palestinian Prisoner Society, estimates that up to 10,773 Palestinians interrogated by the GSS in the West Bank were denied legal access, with nearly half going more than two weeks without a lawyer.
In addition to violating legal guidelines that allow interrogators to deny access to a lawyer in exceptional cases only, the report said detainees held incommunicado were exposed to harsher conditions, and even torture.
“All the detainees who gave affidavits to PCATI regarding their interrogations under incommunicado detention testified to having been exposed to violence, including physical and/or psychological ill treatment, and were held under especially hard conditions,” the report said.
The rights groups said prisoners described being shackled to chairs for prolonged periods, sleep deprivation, threats, and abysmal detention conditions.
“It is doubtful that a single one of the cases… would have occurred without the conditions of incommunicado detention,” the report said.
While the report only provides detailed statistics on the period up to 2007, PCATI said information gathered between 2008-2010 “shows the scope of GSS’ use of ‘incommunicado detention’… has not decreased.”
The group called for new rules on when prisoners can be denied access to a lawyer “so as to reduce to a minimum the implementation of this tool,” and for cameras to placed in GSS interrogation facilities to monitor questioning.
It also urged the courts to force the release of additional official information on incommunicado detention by the GSS.
Rights groups have regularly petitioned for the release of official statistics under Israel’s freedom of information law, but the courts have usually sided with the GSS, permitting them a security exemption.
“This comprehensive confidentiality of information… permits the GSS to continue its mass use of incommunicado detention unimpeded, under cover of obscurity,” the report said.