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Israel renews detention without charge of Palestinian circus performer for further six months

BEIRUT | iloubnan.info, with agencies - June 14, 2016, 07h33

The Israeli military on Monday renewed for six months the detention of Palestinian circus performer Mohammad Faisal Abu Sakha, who has been held without charge since his arrest in December 2015, in a case that exemplifies the authorities’ arbitrary and repressive use of administrative detention, said Amnesty International.

Mohammad Abu Sakha performs as a clown and teaches at the Palestinian Circus School in Birzeit, near Ramallah, where he specializes in working with children with learning difficulties.

“The arbitrary detention of Mohammad Abu Sakha is yet another shameful example of the Israeli authorities’ abusive use of administrative detention. He has already spent more than six months behind bars without being charged or allowed to stand trial - he has been denied even the slightest semblance of justice,” said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

“The Israeli authorities must either charge Mohammad Abu Sakha with a genuine criminal offence or order his release. For decades, Israel has relied upon administrative detention, in many cases as an alternative to bringing Palestinians to trial, and used it to suppress peaceful dissent. They must take urgent steps to end this cruel practice once and for all.”

Administrative detention allows the Israeli authorities to detain people indefinitely without charge or trial. Under international law, its use is only permitted in exceptional circumstances and when subjected to stringent safeguards.

The military prosecution has accused Mohammed Abu Sakha of carrying out unspecified “illegal activities” with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP, a left-wing political party with an armed wing, banned by Israel). They have kept much of the “evidence” they purport to hold against him secret, making it impossible for him to build an effective case to defend himself or challenge his detention.

The Palestinian Circus School, which is funded by various charities and other bodies, including the European Commission, has said there is absolutely no basis to claims that Mohammad Abu Sakha is a security threat, and that his life is dedicated to the circus.  

Mohammad Abu Sakha’s detention renewal order will be reviewed on Wednesday 15 June by a military judge who can either confirm the renewal, cancel the order or reduce the period of detention. In the overwhelming majority of cases, these hearings serve as a routine confirmation of the order.

“Unless the Israeli authorities can bring credible charges against Mohammad Abu Sakha, he should be released without delay. Meting out punishments based on vague accusations without giving the accused a chance to effectively challenge them is a total distortion of justice,” said Philip Luther.

The 23-year-old was arrested on 14 December 2015 while he was on his way to work at the Palestinian Circus School. The Israeli military gave him a six-month administrative detention order on 25 December, which was reviewed and upheld by a military judge on 5 January. On 31 March, Mohammad Faisal Abu Sakha’s appeal against his first six-month administrative detention order was rejected.

The Israeli authorities claim they only use administrative detention in exceptional cases relating to security. In practice, however, it has been used to detain thousands of people, including those Amnesty International has considered prisoners of conscience, and the authorities have sharply increased its use in recent months. As of 30 April 2016, the last month for which Israel Prison Service statistics are available, 692 Palestinians were being held by Israel in administrative detention. Of these, 13 were children.

Administrative detention orders are issued by Israeli military commanders and are renewable an unlimited number of times. Some Palestinians have been held without charge or trial for years.

Amnesty International opposes the practice of administrative detention. The organization has found that administrative detention, wherever it is used, invariably fails to meet, in law and practice, the safeguards required by international law to prevent arbitrary detention.

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