Covid-19: A dual punishment for Palestinian and Arab prisoners

Covid-19: A dual punishment for Palestinian and Arab prisoners
Comment: An open letter from more than 150 personalities from the Arab world, calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and prisoners of conscience in the region.
10 min read
Prisoners are not only denied their basic rights, but also risk catching coronavirus [Getty]
In this time of quarantine, we have come to appreciate the importance of freedom to humanity, and we are aware of the tragedy in losing our freedom of movement, prevented from seeing and embracing our loved ones, and even from saying our last farewells. 

This is a tragedy suffered daily by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli cells, as well as prisoners of conscience in the Arab world.

But, unlike the quarantine that we experience, which has no bars or barriers, prison is used as a weapon against men, women, and children whose only fault is the defense of human rights.

It is a weapon that the Israeli occupation has used for decades to break the will of Palestinians protecting their inalienable rights, but it has encountered their resilience in the face of occupation and apartheid. It is also the weapon used by corrupt regimes in the Arab world to silence any opposition, even mere criticism.

Amid the pandemic, imprisonment becomes a double punishment: the deprivation of freedom and basic rights, as well as the possibility of becoming infected with the highly contagious coronavirus. Palestinian prisoners in Israeli cells and prisoners of conscience in the Arab world live in close quarters in overcrowded cells with minimal health and safety precautions.

Throughout the Arab world, from Morocco to Iraq by way of Egypt (perhaps with the exception of Tunisia), thousands of political prisoners are held in conditions that exacerbate the spread of infection.

At the beginning of the year, there were about 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli cells, 431 of them in administrative detention (with no charge or sentence); of these, 194 are minors, and 30 are under the age of 16. Forty-three are women, and six are members of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Israel has deafened its ears to the call, and its security forces arrested 2,017 Palestinians between early March and April 3 of this year

A few Palestinian prisoners who were sick have called upon human rights organisations and the free people of the world, declaring: "We demand the implementation of what remains of our rights. We are under the daily threat of disease, yet no tangible or preventive measures have been taken to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and stop the virus from spreading… Do not let us perish in our cell beds without anyone having lifted a single finger to protect us or prevent our death."

On 17 April, 2020, the International Day of Palestinian Prisoners, Palestinian civil society and Palestinian rights organisations launched an urgent appeal for the immediate release of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, especially for the most vulnerable (like those suffering from chronic illnesses), in order to ensure their right to life and safety.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also called for the protection of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ramy Shaath, Egyptian-Palestinian human rights defender and coordinator of the movement for the boycott of lsrael (BDS) in Egypt, symbolizes the community of fate between Palestinian prisoners and political prisoners in the Arab world; 10 months after his detention, he remains in the notorious Tora prison.

On 17 April, 2020, an Egyptian court issued a ruling - in absentia, without the presence of attorneys, and with no justification - that places Shaath and 12 others (including Zyad El-Elaimy, ex-parliamentarian and a prominent actor in the 2011 revolution) on Egypt's terrorist entities list, curtailing their rights.

Civil society organisations and political parties in Egypt have issued a joint statement condemning the inclusion of Zyad El-Elaimy and Ramy Shaath on the "terrorist entities list" and calling on the Egyptian government to immediately release them, to remove their names from the list, to drop all investigations again them, and to stop a series of injustices and violations of their rights.

President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi has used arrest, detention, and torture to suffocate any dissenting voices, as is evident in the 60,000 political prisoners that rights groups have accounted for in Egyptian prisons.

On Wednesday, 25 March, 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for the urgent release of detainees worldwide as a measure to prevent the crisis that coronavirus will cause in overcrowded prisons.

Israel has deafened its ears to the call, and its security forces arrested
2,017 Palestinians between early March and 3 April this year, including 16 children. Human rights organisations have also called on Arab governments to immediately and unconditionally release all detained human rights defenders held for the peaceful expression of their opinions.

Although some governments have announced the release of prisoners and carried out some releases, these have not extended to political prisoners.

We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails and all political prisoners in the Arab world. We hold the ruling apartheid regime in Palestine and the repressive regimes in the region responsible for the health of these prisoners and the preservation of their inalienable rights to life.

We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails

List of the first 167 signatories 

Ahmed Abbas, Research Mathematician & Research Director in Paris, Tunisia/France

Jounaidi Abdeljaoued, Mathematics's Lecturer, Retired, Trade Unionist & Politician, Tunisia

Hichem Abdessamad, Translator, Founding Member of the "Nachaz" Association, Tunisia

Saddouq Abdessamad, Engineer, Morocco

Pierre Abi-Saab, Journalist, Lebanon

Khaled Abichou, Retired Educator, France

Kamel Abidi, Journalist, Tunisia

Azzedine Akesbi, Economist, Morocco

Najib Akesbi, Economist/Retired University Professor, Morocco

Aziz Al-Assa, Writer/Researcher, Palestine

Houssam Al-Assimi, Yellow Vests' Activist, France

Torkia Al-Shaybi, Member of the Directors' Committee of the Tunisian Human Rights League & President of the "Un Million de femmes rurales" Association, Tunisia

Abdellatif Al-Yousfi, Member of the Political Bureau of the Unified Socialist Party (Morocco), Morocco

Mohamed Al-Dahshan, Economist, UK

Tewfik Allal, Trade Unionist, Algeria/France

Lamis Andoni, Journalist, Jordan

Ali Anouzla, Journalist, Morocco

Nejma Aouadi, President of the Tunisian Women's Association for Research and Development, Tunisia

Sami Aouadi, University Professor/Trade Unionist, Tunisia

Hanan Ashrawi, Member of the Executive Committee (PLO), Palestine

Sion Assidon, Citizen and Founding Member of BDS Morocco, Morocco

Essia Atrous, Journalist, Tunisia

Saleh Bakri, Actor, Palestine

Ziad Bakri, Actor, Palestine

Anis Balafrej, Civil Rights' Activist, Morocco

Omar Barghouti, Co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Movement (BDS), Palestine

Kamel Barkaoui, University Professor, France

Habib Belhadi, Film Director & Producer, Tunisia

Abdelilah Belkeziz, University Professor, Morocco

Fouad Bellamine, Artist, Morocco

Ayadh Ben Achour, University Professor, Tunisia

Houcine Ben Azzouna, University Professor, Tunisia

Houda Ben Ghachem, University Professor, Tunisia

Fathi Ben Haj Yahia, Educator, Tunisia

Tarek Ben Hiba, Human Rights' Activist, Tunisia

Ghassan Ben Khelifa, Journalist, Tunisia

Zohra Ben Lakhdar Akrout, Professor of Physics, Faculty of Science in Tunisia, Tunisia

Mustapha Ben Letaief, University Professor, Tunisia

Najib Ben Salem, Professor Emeritus, Tunisia

Hefnaoui Benamar Ghoul, Journalist and Human rights Activist, Algeria _ Bachir BenBarka, Retired University Professor, France

Kenza Benjelloun, Conceptual Artist, Morocco

Farida Benyazid, Film Director, Morocco

Abdelmoughit Benmessaoud Tredano, University Professor, Morocco

Bichr Bennani, Editor, Morocco

Mohamed Bennis, Poet, Morocco

Sihem Bensedr, President of the Truth and Dignity Commission, Tunisia

Abdou Berrada, Journalist, Morocco

Mohammed Berrada, Writer, Morocco

Heba Beydoun, Political Consultant, Palestine

Kais Blaiech, Lawyer/Student, Tunisia

Mokhtar Blaiech, Lawyer, Tunisia

Mohamed Ali Boughdiri, Secretary General of the Tunisian General Labour Union, Tunisia

Mohamed Larbi Bouguerra, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Sciences in Tunis, Tunisia/France

Nadir Bouhmouch, Director, Amazigh Land

Anouar Brahem, Composer & Oud Instrumentalist, Tunisia

Mustapha Brahma, National Secretary of The Democratic Voice, Morocco

Omar Brouksy, University Professor/Journalist, Morocco

Nahla Chahal, Editor in Chief of Assafir Al Arabi, Lebanon

Taoufik Chamari, Civil Society Activist, Tunisia

Khemayyes Chammari, Former Ambassador, Tunisia

Houcine Chebli, Retired Mathematics Professor, Tunisia

Hafidha Chekir, Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights, Tunisia

Mouhieddine Cherbib, Human Rights' Activist, Tunisia

Fatma Cherif, Film Director, Tunisia

Alya Cherif Chammari, Lawyer in the Court of Cassation, Tunisia

Driss Chouika, Theatre Director & Producer, Morocco

Larbi Chouikha, University Professor, Tunisia

Saad Chraibi, Film Director, Morocco

Mohamed Dalbah, Writer/Journalist, USA

Majdouline Darwish, Civil servant, Lebanon

Faycal El Ghoul, Retired University Professor, Tunisia

Montaser El Idrissi, Graphic Designer and Researcher, Morocco

Basma El-Husseiny, Cultural Director, Egypt

Oumaima El-Khalil, Singer, Lebanon

Hossam El-Wahidi, Political Advisor, Palestine

Khaled Elbalshy, Journalist, Egypt

Mohamed Lakhdar Ellala, President of the "Tunisians in France" Association, France

Dirar Elyyan, Associate Vice President of Palestine Technical University (Kadoorie), Palestine

Mohamed Ennaji, Writer, Morocco

Noura Erakat, University Professor, USA

Zeyneb Farhat, Cultural Activist, Tunisia

Hani Faris, Professor of Political Science, Canada

Wahid Ferchichi, University Professor, Tunisia

Claudette Ferjani, Retiree, Social and Intellectual Studies Association, Tunisia/France

Mohamed Cherif Ferjani, Professor Emeritus, University of Lyon II, President of the Higher Scientific Council at Timbuktu Institute, African Centre for Peace Studies, France/Tunisia

Khadija Finan, University Professor, France

Ibrahim Fraihat, University Professor, Palestine

Sahar Francis, Lawyer, Palestine

Ahmad Al-Galai, Member of the Arab Institute for Human Rights, Tunisia

Amel Garami, University Professor, Tunisia

Raoudha Gharbi, Human Rights Activist, Tunisia

Alain Gresh, Journalist, France

Yousef Habache, Journalist/Human Rights' Activist, Palestine/France

Sofia Hadi, Actress, Morocco

Elaine Hagopian, Ph.D, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Simmons University, USA

Nisreen Haj Ahmad, Activist, Jordan

Abdellah Hammoudi, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University, Morocco

Faleh Hammoudi, Trade Unionist/Human Rights' Advocate, Algeria

Hamza Hamouchene, Researcher/Activist, International Institute, Algeria/UK

Maher Hanin, Sociologist and Political Activist, The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, Tunisia

Haitham Hasan, Chief of the General Surgery Department at Makassed Hospital, Palestine

Abderrahman Hedhili, President of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, Tunisia

Leila Hilal, Senior fellow for the International Security Program and the former director of the Middle East Task Force at New America, USA

Yamila Hussein, Education Leader, USA

Samah Idris, Editor in Chief of Al Adaab Magazine, Lebanon

Gameela Ismail, Politician/Journalist, Egypt

Abderrahim Jamai, Lawyer in Rabat, Former Chief of the Lawyers' Syndicate and Former President of the Bar Association of Morocco, Morocco

Mahmoud Jemni, Director, Tunisia

Kamel Jendoubi, Honorary President of EuroMed Rights, Tunisia

Mohamed Ali Jendoubi, University Professor of Mathematics, Tunisia

ElHabib Kamal, Human Rights' Activist, Morocco

Afifa Karake, Highschool Educator, Lebanon

Ali Kazak, Former Ambassador and General Director of "Palestine Publications", Australia

Rajae Kessab, Political Activist, Trade Unionist/Parliamentarian, Consultative Council

Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University

Abdelmoumen Khalil, General Secretary of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), Algeria

Bassem Khalil Al-Wazir, Activist, Palestine

Suhad Khatib, Artist, Palestine

Cherifa Kheddar, President of "Our Algeria" Association, supporting victims of terrorism, Algeria

Mohamed Khenissi, Former Political Prisoner and President of "Nachaz" Association, Tunisia

Sadri Khiari, Artist, Tunisia

Souad Labbize, Writer/Translator, France

Nabyl Lahlou, Writer/Theatre and Film Director, Morocco

Moulim Laroussi, Writer, Morocco

Chokri Latif, Writer, President of the Tunisian Coalition Against Capital Punishment, Tunisia

Ali Louati, Writer, Tunisia

Tarek Loubani, Physician, Canada

Bahija Lyoubi, Film Producer, Morocco

Mohamed Maali, Journalist/Translator, Tunis Center for Press Freedom, Tunisian Coalition Against the Death Penalty (CTCPM), Tunisia

Ali Maarouf, Member of the Palestinian Higher Council for Health, Member of the Palestinian Central Council and President of the Arab-German Medical Association, Germany

Fouad Maghrabi, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, USA

Rachid Maalaoui, President of the SNAPAP Union & CGATA, Algeria

Saloua Mani Aouadi, University Professor, Tunisia

Linda Mansour, Lawyer, USA

Hasna Marsit, Member of Parliament, Founder & President of the "Voice of Nefzaoua" Association, Tunisia

Ali Mili, University Professor, Tunisia

El-Khansa Mkada-Zghidi, University Professor & Researcher, Tunisia

Maati Monjib, University Professor, President of Freedom Now

Jamel Msallem, President of the Tunisian Human Rights League, Tunisia

Amer Muhammad, Sudanese Refugee, France

Naous Nadine, Director, Lebanon

Tamer Nafar, Rap Artist, Lydda

Ahmed Nagy, Writer, Egypt

Ibrahim Nasrallah, Writer, Jordan

Abdelaziz Nouaydi, Lawyer, Morocco

Osama Qasem, Activist, Jordan

Abderrahim Rabea, Member of the SNAPAP Union & CGATA, Algeria

Omar Radi, Journalist, Morocco

Roshdi Rashed, Emeritus Director of Research

Habib Rejeb, Physician, Tunisia

Abdul Amir Rikabi, Writer, Iraq

Massoud Romdhani, Human Rights' Activist, Tunisia

Khadija Riyadhi, Human Rights' Activist, Morocco

Walid Salem, Deanship of Scientific Research at Al Quds University, Palestine

Said Salhi, Vice President of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, Algeria

Mohamed Sammouni, Journalist/Sociology Researcher, Morocco

Youssef Seddik, Writer/Philosopher, Tunisia

Nabil Ali Shaath, Advisor to the President of Palestine, Palestine

Leila Shahid, Former Ambassador, Palestine

Taoufiq Tahani, Mathematics Professor, France

Alaa Talbi, History Researcher, Tunisia

Bassem Trifi, Lawyer and Human rights Activist, Tunisia

Mokhtar Trifi, Honorary President of the Tunisian Human Rights League and Vice President of the World Organisation Against Torture, Tunisia

Karem Yehia, Journalist/Writer, Egypt

Dalal Yassin, Human and Refugee Rights' Author & Writer, USA

Hatem Zaag, Mathematics' Research Director, Tunisia/France

Mohamed Zeidan, Former Director of the Arab Foundation for Human Rights, Nazareth

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This article was originally posted by our partners Orient XXI.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.