Release of UK citizen accused of aiding Hamas ordered over alleged torture

Shin Bet denies wrongdoing, emphasizes terror charges and appeal of release.

Jail (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Jail (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
The Judea Military Court recently ordered the release of a British citizen facing charges of assisting terrorists, due to issues with Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) interrogation methods leading to a confession, Walla News reported Tuesday.
Subsequently, The Jerusalem Post acquired a copy of the October 27 decision by Judge Lt.-Col. Azriel Levi and learned that the IDF prosecution has appealed the decision to the West Bank Military Appeals Court, which is set to hear the appeal Sunday.
Faiz Mahmoud Ahmad Sharawi will still face charges for helping terrorists smuggle funds and cellphones for Hamas in the West Bank as well as charges dating back to 2005. But if the court decision stands, he will be freed from custody throughout the trial procedure.
His trial is set to start on November 8.
Also on Tuesday, the IDF’s chief prosecutor, Lt.-Col. Maurice Hirsch, stepped down, without his replacement Lt.- Col. Asem Hamed having taken the helm yet.
The Post first exclusively disclosed Hirsch’s stepping down and Hamed’s appointment on September 27.
The decision would also be a potential broader blow to the IDF prosecution and the Shin Bet as the court suggested that the entire confession might need to be thrown out and invalidated due to the interrogation conditions.
The conditions were described as the painful handcuffing of Sharawi for an extended period as well as threats, which could be sufficient to coerce an involuntary confession.
Sharawi was also prevented from seeing a lawyer from his September 15 arrest until October 6.
Azrieli wrote that the Shin Bet’s own record of the interrogations included multiple statements by Sharawi that he was downcast and ready to admit to whatever they asked him to admit to.
In unusually strong language, in light of how Sharawi was treated during the interrogation, Azrieli said his confession later given to police was “not given voluntarily” and its “value was zero.”
He added that several of the crimes attributed to Sharawi did not fit the definitions of crimes under the IDF’s West Bank laws.
For example, Sharawi’s military training was in a foreign country, not the West Bank. Also, aspects of his smuggling funds for terrorists occurred in both London and Jordan, but not in the West Bank.
He said absent a connection to the West Bank, it was unclear that these charges could move forward or be used to justify keeping him in custody pending trial.
Azrieli rejected the IDF prosecution claims that WhatsApp messages of Sharawi confirming his crimes could serve as sufficient evidence against him even without his confession in his interrogation.
Surprisingly, Azrieli also mentioned the Supreme Court’s recent ruling partially exonerating former prime minister Ehud Olmert in portions of the Holyland Affair. He noted that the ruling stated that any doubt about whether funds were being used for illegal purposes, including a somewhat plausible counter-explanation, would undermine a conviction on illegal actions with funds.
The Olmert decision has not previously been cited in the context of terrorism charges.
Many of the court’s other findings were also unusual and may not make it passed an appeal.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel responded to the story noting “using torture happens and is not exceptional in interrogations. Painful handcuffing and threats are a common method used in Shin Bet interrogations with the purpose of causing a detainee grave pain and suffering and to break his spirit.”
In contrast, the Shin Bet denied any wrongdoing and emphasized the still pending allegations against Sharawi for terrorism were “grave” as well as the IDF prosecution’s pending appeal.
It said, “the claims that torture were used during the interrogation... are baseless and groundless.”