Palestinian Authority accused of torture

A Palestinian human rights group on Monday accused the Palestinian Authority of human rights violations and introduced relatives of some alleged victims at a press conference.

In a 27-page report studying 42 cases, the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group charged that Palestinian Authority security forces use torture to extract confessions, even if the person accused of wrongdoing is innocent.

In one case, nine men were arrested in Khader, near Bethlehem, last May and charged with several murders, including that of a man who was killed in October 1993.

Nabil Salah, one of the accused, was forced to confess to the murder, even though he had documentary proof from the International Committee of the Red Cross that he was in jail in Israel from 1991 to 1994.

Some of the nine were also accused of murdering another man for whose death the Israel Defense Force had officially claimed responsibility.

Bassem Eid, director of the human rights group, worked for the Israeli human-rights group B'tselem at the time. He took testimony showing that the man was killed by an IDF undercover unit.

In February, Palestinian Authority Justice Minister Freih Abu Medein said that the men would all be released within 48 hours, but they remain in Jericho jail.

One of the arrested men reported to relatives that during three months of interrogation, "they forced my head into a toilet and forced me to drink from it."

Another was allegedly stripped naked in the office of Col. Washidi, of Bethlehem military intelligence, "where they tried to rape me, but my screams prevented them. They inserted a baton into my rectum. At that moment I signed the confession."

Whipping with electric cables, being locked in a closet for days, being tied in painful positions are also allegedly common.

"The authority is not set in its ways, but goes back and forward," Eid said. Journalists, he noted, "have been relatively safe since the beginning of the year, until last week," when Jerusalem journalist Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian-American, was arrested for broadcasting Palestinian Authority debates.

"The frequency of torture is less than before. But maybe the victims are afraid to file complaints," Eid said.

Palestinian Authority Attorney-General Khalid al-Qidrah responded to the report on Israel Radio's Arabic service. He denied there is systematic torture, "only individual acts," and accused Eid of "lies."