hamas rally 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Palestinian Authority said on Wednesday that a Hamas supporter who was found dead in one of its prisons in the West Bank had committed suicide and did not die as a result of torture.
Muhammad Abed Haj, 30, from Jalkamus, near Jenin, was found dead in his prison cell last week. PA security officers said he had hanged himself by tying a cloth around his neck.
However, Hamas and Haj's family rejected the PA's version, insisting that his death was the result of brutal torture while he was held in solitary confinement. The family released a number of photos showing bruises and cuts on different parts on his body.
The PA leadership in Ramallah strongly denied that its security forces were torturing detainees, dubbing the allegations as "Hamas fabrications and lies."
A PA security source told The Jerusalem Post that Haj was "not an innocent man," as one of his relatives confessed that he had delivered to him an M-16 rifle.
One of Haj's brothers, Abdel Baset, is a top Hamas operative who is in an Israeli prison.
Haj is the second detainee to die in a PA prison in the past 12 months. The first victim was Majd Barghouti, an imam from Kobar, near Ramallah.
The PA security forces claimed then that Barghouti, who was accused of supporting Hamas, died from a massive heart attack as a result of heavy smoking. Again, his family and Hamas continue to insist that he died after being brutally tortured during his interrogation.
The latest case has prompted human rights activists to demand a full inquiry into allegations that many detainees are being subjected to various methods of torture in PA prisons in the West Bank.
Some of the detainees who were released from PA prisons in the past few weeks reported that they had been physically and verbally abused by their interrogators. One of them, a university student from Nablus, said he was forced to stand in the cold for four days while his head was covered with a stinking plastic bag and his hands tied behind his back. Another detainee from Tulkarm reported being sexually assaulted by his interrogators.
According to a human rights activist in the West Bank, most of the detainees are held without trial and denied family visits. Most were also banned from seeing a lawyer, he said.
"The prisons controlled by [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas and [Prime Minister] Salaam Fayad have become centers for torture," he said. "We are very worried about the serious violations of prisoners' rights, but we are scared to report about what's happening in these prisons."
In the past three weeks alone, he said, five detainees were transferred to various hospitals for medical treatment after they were severely beaten during interrogation in PA jails.
One of them, Mus'ab Abu Srour, from Ni'lin, in the Ramallah area, was rearrested on Wednesday after being released from the intensive care unit at Ramallah Hospital. Abu Srour, according to members of his family, was taken to hospital earlier this week after being tortured in prison by PA security officers.
Mustafa Khawaja, a journalist from the same village, was released from a PA prison on Wednesday. He was arrested last week on charges of filing reports to a Hamas-affiliated media outlet. The journalist is one of seven reporters from the West Bank who are being held by Abbas's security forces without trial.
Khawaja's family said he was beaten and had his head covered with a bag while he was in detention.
Two other detainees who were transferred to hospital in serious condition are Iyad Asfour, the brother of former Hamas spokesman in the West Bank, Adnan Asfour, and Amjad Elaiwi.
The two are suspected of supporting Hamas and possessing weapons. They were arrested a few months ago and have since - according to their families - been subjected to various methods of torture by PA security personnel.
Haj was arrested by members of the PA's much-feared Preventive Security Service on February 6 on suspicion of membership in an illegal organization (Hamas) and possession of weapons.
Dr. Yusef Samarah, a prison physician who examined him shortly after his arrest, told a commission of inquiry appointed by Abbas that Haj appeared to be "very tense and panicky."
Ra'fat Nasif, a Hamas spokesman in the West Bank, said the PA was holding more than 500 Palestinians on suspicion of membership in Hamas or of being affiliated with the movement. He described the detainees as "political prisoners" and said the ongoing crackdown on Hamas supporters by Abbas's forces would harm the chances of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.