Screen shot of ABC program 370.
(photo credit: Screen shot ABC News)
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr is seeking answers from his own department in the wake a TV expose of the reported suicide by an
Australian citizen held in isolation in an Israeli jail. According to the Australian Associated Press, Carr maintains that "he was acting on Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advice when he told the ABC's Foreign Correspondent program this week that the government knew nothing of Mr Zygier's detention until after his death in 2010." Meanwhile, Israeli Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem met with the Australian Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop on Wednesday
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Australia's ABC station quoted Bishop as saying that the reported fate of the prisoner is "a matter that I'll raise directly with the Israeli embassy to get an understanding of the basis for it."
"If there are security considerations I can understand it, but if it's just about embarrassing a government agency, then that certainly requires an explanation and I'll be seeking one," she added.
On Tuesday night ABC aired a report that an anonymous prisoner who hanged himself in Ayalon Prison in December 2010
could be an Australian who had made aliyah and subsequently recruited into the Mossad.
report, on ABC's “Foreign Correspondent” program, stated that there is
strong reason to believe that so-called “Prisoner X” was Melbourne-native Ben
Zygier, known in Israel as Ben Alon. The report states that Zygier
was jailed for unknown reasons in early 2010, a decade after he moved
to Israel and years after he was recruited into the Mossad. The report
also claims that Zygier's detention has been one of the most
closely-guarded secrets in Israel in recent years, and that the Israeli
media unable or willing to report on it and the security establishment
has gone to extraordinary lengths to cover up his very existence in
prison and the circumstances of his death.
The ABC piece says
that Zygier was kept in the isolation cell originally built to house Yitzhak
Rabin's assassin Yigal Amir, and was kept under constant surveillance
until his "apparent" suicide. The report quotes an unnamed source as
saying that Zygier was working for the Mossad after being recruited as a
new immigrant. It also says some that some time after he moved to
Israel, Zygier took out a new Australian passport under the name of “Ben
Allen," and hints that this may have been so he could travel more
inconspicuously in countries hostile to Israel.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr is quoted by ABC as saying that Canberra authorities were never contacted by Zygier's family while he was in
custody, nor were formal complaints ever presented by them.
hung himself, his body was flown back to Melbourne and buried in a
Jewish cemetery in Springvale on December 22, 2010, according to the
report. The report states that the program has evidence that a death
certificate was issued for Zygier at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute,
ruling the cause of death as asphyxiation by hanging, and that his body
was at Ayalon jail.
Correspondent Trevor Bormann says his program
lodged a Freedom of Information request with the Department of Foreign
Affairs asking for documents relating to Ben Zygier, and were told by
the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that there are documents
relating to Zygier's death and imprisonment but that they could not show
them to the show because it could have “a substantial adverse impact on
the proper and efficient conduct of consular operations.”
reports also stated that Zygier was the son of Geoffrey Zygier, the
executive director of the Victoria Jewish Community Council and one of
the leaders of the Melbourne Jewish Community.
On Tuesday Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman
said the citizens of Israel will eventually learn information on the
Prisoner X case that the government has censored, as Mks asked him about
the case on the floor of the Knesset following news of the ABC report.
article was published that an Australian prisoner committed suicide
under a different identity. Do you know about the situation? Do you
confirm that it occurred?² asked MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab
"Are there people in prisons whose incarceration is
kept secret? What are the supervision mechanisms on this kind of
imprisonment?" demanded Hadash MK Dov Henin. "What are the possibilities
for parliamentary supervision on such incarcerations? How can the
public be critical in this situation?"
Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On
told Neeman, “I want to hear your stance on the fact that journalists
volunteer to censor information at the government's request.”
Referring to the informal forum that includes the heads of the country's Hebrew press outlets and The Jerusalem Post
she asked, "Is it proper that the Prime Minister¹s Office invited the
Editors' Committee to prevent news from being publicized? Today, we hear
that in a country that claims to be a civilized democracy, journalists
cooperate with the government, and that anonymous prisoners, who no one
knew existed, commit suicide.”
The questions came during Neeman's
final speech as justice minister. Neeman responded that prisons were
not under his authority, and that the Mks should ask Public Security
Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch their questions. He added that he did not
know if the reports were accurate, and that they should be investigated.
MK Nachman Shai criticized the very existence of a censor. “The prime
minister forgot that in 2013, the media does not accept his dictates and
does not act according to national consensus as in the past,” he
stated. “It would be better to present the public with the truth, within
security restrictions, and share it with them.”
Shai plans to
propose a bill limiting the possibility of censorship, calling the wide
use of the practice “ridiculous and upsetting.” The Labor MK will demand
that the courts review censorship requests, and if their content is
published in the foreign press, Israeli media should be permitted to
print them.Lahav Harkov contributed to this report