How Hamas broke Gaza's justice system

Human Rights Watch accuses Hamas of arbitrary arrests, executing people over confessions extracted by torture.

Hamas execution [file] 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer .)
Hamas execution [file] 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer .)
One day, in August 2008, Abdel Karim Shreir disappeared. For weeks, his mother says, his family didn’t know where he was. He then appeared in police custody and was put on trial for collaborating with Israel. Abdel Karim had clearly been tortured.
“His legs and face were bruised, his hands and arms had rope marks, and his chest had burn marks,” his mother Safia Shreir told The Media Line. “He was in very bad shape.”
Abdel Karim was sentenced to death based on a confession he made while undergoing torture. Shreir says her son was executed by firing squad in 2011 and Hamas buried him before she could see the body. She still has no death certificate.
Shreir says that when she complained to Hamas authorities, she, too, was beaten. She still has trouble using her right hand.
She insists her son confessed only because he was being tortured. He was not a collaborator with Israel, she insists, and says he would have confessed to anything to get the torture to end.
“He was killed because he was a member of Fatah,” she said, referring to the rival Palestinian group that controls the West Bank. “I want justice for my son.”
The case of Abdel Karim Shreir is only one of many described in a new report by Human Rights Watch on the Hamas justice system in the Gaza Strip. The Islamist group Hamas, which forcibly took control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, is seen by much of the international community as a terrorist organization.
“Human Rights Watch (HRW) found that the authorities in Gaza have a broken justice system,” the reports author Bill Van Esveld told The Media Line. “They are putting people in prison without warrants, denying people access to their lawyers while in detention, cases of abuse in detention are not being investigated and some people have been executed on the basis of confessions that were extracted under torture.”
Van Esveld says that at least 100 Palestinians complained of torture in 2011, although he believes the number to be much higher as many are afraid to speak out. HRW is calling on Hamas to make widespread reforms.
“We are calling on Hamas to end the torture and abuse of detainees, and ensure that detainees have access to their lawyers,” Van Esveld said. “Hamas must ensure that the families of people w ho are being arrested know where they’re being held, and are allowed to see them. Most importantly, given all of these serious abuses and the fact that torture confessions are being used in courts, Hamas must impose a moratorium on the death penalty in Gaza. Innocent people might be executed.”
Hamas rejected all of the conclusions of the report calling it “inaccurate” and “politically biased.” Hamas said it does not engage in torture and there is oversight of all interrogations. The Gaza Interior Ministry also said all of the Hamas-appointed judges are professionals.
Hamas is an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood, a member of which was recently elected president in Egypt. For decades, under former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, members of the Muslim Brotherhood complained of arbitrary arrest and torture. HRW is calling upon the Brotherhood to intervene with Hamas to end its abusive practices.
“We were in Cairo and urged members of the Muslim Brotherhood to use their influence on Hamas,” Van Esveld said. “Since many members of the Muslim Brotherhood themselves have experienced torture and severe due process violations, that they should use their influence on Hamas to pressure them to end these abuses.”
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