Leading criminal attorney and human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman said on
Thursday that “Prisoner X,” who apparently committed suicide in an Israeli jail
in 2010, had told him that he didn’t want to accept a plea bargain, saying he
wanted to fight to clear his name.
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Feldman, who visited the prisoner the
day before he died, also told The Jerusalem Post that he had identified himself
as Melbourne-native Ben Zygier, something that Israel has yet to
Feldman said Zygier had not wanted to deal with the
repercussions of a guilty plea.
He had said specifically that it would be
an admission to his family and loved ones that he was guilty of what he was
accused of. He sought to clear his name, and appeared to be someone who wasn’t
looking to give up, Feldman said.
While he said he was not at liberty to
say what the state’s indictment against Zygier contained, Feldman said Zygier
could “absolutely” have had a chance to see the light of day
“There’s no death penalty in Israel,” Feldman said. “He could have
made it out some day.”
Feldman said that security officials had approved
a request he had made to see the evidence in the case against Zygier, but the
next day he died and Feldman did not have a chance to see the
He also said that by no means did Zygier seem to be someone
ready to kill himself.
“He looked about as calm as someone can look in a
situation like this, but he was clear-eyed and looked like he wanted to carry
on,” Feldman said.
“My impression was that he was someone who was
thinking about the future, about the decision he needed to make. I did not meet
someone who was depressed, rather someone who was anxious, but whose anxiety was
natural for someone in his circumstances.”
Channel 2 reported that Zygier
committed suicide in the bathroom of his cell, where there were no surveillance
The lack of any concrete information emerging from Israel about
Zygier led to a swirl of reports abroad on Thursday regarding the reasons for
his mysterious arrest and death.
The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida, quoting
Western sources, claimed that Zygier was part of the Israeli team that allegedly
assassinated Hamas senior commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in
According to the Kuwaiti report, Zygier contacted the Dubai
government after the killing of Mabhouh, who was found dead in his hotel room in
January 2010, and offered information on the assassination operation in return
for protection from Dubai.
Al-Jarida said that Israeli forces
subsequently kidnapped Zygier and imprisoned him.
Ynet, meanwhile, cited
an interview with Dubai police chief Dhahi Khalfan on the Arabian Business
website, in which he denied these claims.
Australian newspaper The Age
also linked Zygier’s incarceration in Israel to the Mabhouh assassination, but
from another angle. According to the newspaper, Zygier may have been about to
disclose information about Mossad operations, including the use of fraudulent
Australian passports, either to the Australian government or to the media before
he was arrested.
The paper cited an Australian security official “with
knowledge of the case,” saying that “[Zygier] may well have been about to blow
the whistle, but he never got the chance.”
Although both Australian
officials and Zygier’s family were aware of his incarceration, the paper quoted
sources in Canberra saying, “The Australian Security Intelligence Organization
(ASIO) was never informed of the precise nature of the espionage allegations
against Zygier.” The paper said, however, that “it is understood that the former
Melbourne law graduate had been in contact with Australian
According to the report, Israeli intelligence officials
passed on information to the ASIO about Zygier’s arrest eight days after Dubai
accused Israeli agents of using fraudulent foreign passports, including
Australian ones, to kill Mabhouh.
The Guardian, meanwhile, ran a story
about how Australian journalist Jason Katsoukis contacted Zygier in 2009 in
Jerusalem and confronted him about espionage allegations, following a tip from
someone in the Australian intelligence community.
The source, according
to the Guardian, named three Australians – including Zygier – with dual Israeli-
Australian citizenship who he said were working for a Mossad-established front
company in Europe selling electronic equipment to Iran.
Channel 2 that he was told that the dual citizens had over the past decade
traveled to Australia and, taking advantage of a loophole there that allows
Australians to change their names once every 12 months, took out new
The reporter said he believed Zygier traveled to Iran on more
than one occasion, and possibly traveled to Lebanon and Syria as well. There
have been numerous reports over the years of fictitious companies set up abroad
selling faulty equipment to the Iranians for their nuclear program.
Zygier Affair has already caused Israel significant national security damage, a
senior legal official told Channel 2 on Thursday, saying that both senior legal
and defense officials were astounded by what they saw each day when they turned
on the television news.
“There are no anonymous prisoners,” the official
said during an off-the-record briefing. He said that over a period of decades
there had only been isolated cases of prisoners being held under fictitious
Channel 2 quoted the official as saying that the decision to hold
a prisoner under an assumed name stemmed from security considerations, as well
as concern for the security of the prisoner and his family. The senior justice
official said that in this case the prisoner agreed to be held under another
name. He said that he received family visitations, and was granted due process
under the law.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Bob Carr told an Australian
Senate hearing on Wednesday that the Australian government was informed in
February 2010 of the arrest “in relation to serious offenses under Israeli
national security legislation.”
Carr said the Australian government at
the time sought “specific assurances” that Zygier’s legal rights would be
respected and that “the Israeli government responded that the individual would
be treated in accordance with his lawful rights as an Israeli
citizen.The government relied on these assurances.”
official said that with Australia currently in the midst of an election
campaign, this issue was being used by the various political sides as an
opportunity to show who cared more for Australians residing abroad.
example of this could be seen in an exchange in the Australian Senate when
Greens Sen. Christine Milne asked a government official why Zygier did not
receive consular assistance from Australian officials in Tel Aviv.
did the Australian government hand over the welfare of one of our citizens to
the spooks [Australian intelligence]? Why?” she asked.
Carr also told
officials at the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Legislation Committee
that on December 16, 2010, Canberra was informed of Zygier’s death the previous
day, the day he died, and that Australian authorities then notified his family.