Israeli prisoner dies in New Zealand

Aviv Atias, denied compassionate release, dies in jail after suicide attempt.

An Israeli serving eight and a half years in a New Zealand prison for drug running died in a hospital on Thursday after being denied compassionate release, a news report said. Aviv Atias, 28, had been on life support since October 8 when he was declared clinically dead after being taken to hospital and his family had been trying to persuade prison authorities to grant him a compassionate release so that he could return home to die. A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that the New Zealand officials honored a request by Israel not to remove him from life support system. The spokesman said that arrangements are now being made to have the body flown back to Israel for burial. The Department of Corrections said he died from assumed natural causes and its manager for prisons Phil McCarthy said an investigation and inquest would be held, Radio New Zealand reported. The Parole Board had refused to release him and Justice Minister Phil Goff said Thursday that he had no power to order officials to let him go. The local Dominion Post newspaper said it understood Atias had tried to commit suicide, but officials would not confirm that. Atias' family had asked to take him back to Israel so that he can die there and the Howard League for Penal Reform was trying to help them. New Zealand Rabbi Antony Lipman commented that generally the Jewish faith does not accept Atias' state as sufficient reason for a person to be taken off life support. The Dominion Post said family and religious, diplomatic, hospital and prison authorities had been battling each other to decide Atias' fate. The paper said police had described Atias as a "field marshal" in an international drugs syndicate when he was jailed in November 2003 for his part in one of the biggest shipments of Ecstasy to New Zealand.