EU Must Protest Conviction of Palestinian Human Rights Defender
Sunday, 06 March 2011 10:58 Cordaid, ICCO, Oxfam-Novib On 30 January 2001, Ameer Makhoul, a leading Palestinian human rights defender, was sentenced by an Isreali court in Haifa to nine years imprisonment for spying. Cordaid, ICCO and Oxfam Novib, united in the Human Rights Defenders Coalition, have serious concerns about the trial.
They call on the European Union to protest against this sentence.
Ameer Makhoul, is the Palestinian Israeli General Director of Ittijah; the network of Arabic nongovernmental organizations in Israel. Until the end of 2009, Ittijah was supported by the development organizations ICCO and Cordaid. As General Director of Ittijah, Makhoul spoke out against discrimination against Palestinian Israelis and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and advocated for the Palestinian right to self-determination.
Ameer Makhoul was arrested on 6 May 2010 and charged with “helping the enemy in time of war” (which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment), “spying,” and “contact with a foreign agent.” As a consequence of harsh interrogation methods which have been declared illegal, also in Israel, Makhoul signed a confession in the first days of his detention. Makhoul was denied access to a lawyer all that time. He later emphatically retracted this confession in court. At the end of October 2010, he pleaded guilty to “spying,” “contact with a foreign agent,” and “conspiracy with the enemy in time of war” in exchange for a reduced sentence. As part of the plea bargain, the prosecutor dropped the most serious charge, “helping the enemy in time of war.”
The Makhoul case has caused a big stir in Israel, where Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations have, in diverse ways, worked to ensure a fair trial, and in Europe, where international human rights organizations have tried to bring the case to the attention of diplomats and the media. The Human Rights Defenders Coalition expressed its concern that Makhoul, after his arrest, was held for 12 days in solitary confinement, was denied access to a lawyer, and was ill-treated through the use of harsh and illegal interrogation methods. Various embassies, including the Dutch, actively monitored the trial. Dutch Embassy staff, for example, have observed hearings and raised the case for discussion within the European Union.
The Human Rights Defenders Coalition’s has serious concerns regarding the conduct of the trial. The conviction is based solely on a confession by Makhoul, made under duress and resulting from illegal methods of interrogation, which he later retracted. Cordaid, Oxfam Novib and ICCO therefore call on the European Union - in conformity with the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders - to:
- protest to the Israeli authorities about the conduct of the trial
- urge the Israeli authorities to safeguard the freedom for human rights defenders in Israel
Silencing as trend?
The Human Rights Defenders Coalition notes that, unfortunately, arrests and convictions, like in the case of Ameer Makhoul, are not uncommon in Israel. They can be seen as a component of a growing effort to silence human rights defenders who speak out against Israeli human rights violations. In this effort, in addition to arrests and imprisonment, methods such as travel bans, verbal threats and attacks in the media are employed.