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HaMoked in petition to the HCJ: repeated failure of the authorities to trace a stateless Palestinian prisoner

In a judgment, issued in 1996, concerning HaMoked’s petition which challenged the security authorities’ unlawful prolonged failure to notify detainees’ families about detainees’ arrest and whereabouts (HCJ 6757/95), the High Court of Justice ruled, inter alia, that the military Control Center was responsible for collecting from all agencies “updated information, once a day, on the arrest and place of detention of a detainee, in a manner that enables it to locate the detainee upon written request by an external person or entity”. Despite that, numerous flaws still occur in the Control Center’s processes of tracking inmates’ whereabouts and notifying their families of the arrest and holding place. These failures become acute in cases of stateless Palestinians, who do not have an identity card or any other identifying document.

On April 19, 2015, a Palestinian family from the West Bank asked for HaMoked’s help in tracing their son, a youth who was arrested by the military back in the summer of 2014, and later convicted and sentenced for two and a half years in prison. The family reported that the youth, who had never been registered as a resident of the OPT and was therefore stateless, was last held in Ofer Prison. Having been informed by the Control Center, tasked with tracking detainees, that it failed to locate the prisoner due to “lack of details”, HaMoked contacted the State Attorney’s Office to demand they trace the prisoner’s whereabouts and disclose his assigned prison number, to enable tracing him in future.

In an outrageous response, the State Attorney’s Office announced that a “prisoner with a similar name” was in fact held by the Israel Prison Service (IPS), but refused to divulge his whereabouts until HaMoked presented a power of attorney. According to the response, this was all the more necessary since the prisoner could have communicated with his family and arranged a visit or phone call in order to transfer his power of attorney to HaMoked.

In its response, sent on the following day, April 22, 2015, HaMoked insisted that it was the Control Center's duty, under the HCJ’s ruling, to reveal Palestinian inmates’ whereabouts without demanding the inquirer produce a power of attorney. HaMoked added that the assumption of the State Attorney’s Office that the prisoner could arrange a visit or make a phone call was wrong, first, because his family had no permits of entry to Israel for the purpose, and second, because it was complex just to be allowed a phone call from prison, which was permitted only in cases deemed humanitarian. The State Attorney’s Office now responded by referring HaMoked back to the Control Center; which, this time, notified that the youth was “probably” at Megiddo Prison.

HaMoked, anxious about this “probable” whereabouts, hoped that, as the authorities now had the prisoner’s serial number, he would be quickly traced. However, the Control Center failed yet again to perform its duty, and announced on April 29, 2015, that the youth “has not been found”.

Therefore, on April 30, 2015, HaMoked filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus for the youth, asking the court to instruct the military to immediately locate the youth and also to compel the police and the IPS to keep meticulous up-to-date records of people held in custody. Soon after the petition was filed, the state announced that a mix-up had occurred in entering the youth’s details into the IPS computer records, and finally disclosed his whereabouts to HaMoked. Thereupon, the petition was deleted with the parties’ consent. (02) 627 1698   (02) 627 6317

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