NGOs to High Court: Let security prisoners call families during lockdown

During lockdowns, including the present one, even these limited visits are suspended.

An Israeli flag is seen next to the gate of the Megiddo Prison in northern Israel July 24, 2018. Picture taken July 24, 2018.  (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
An Israeli flag is seen next to the gate of the Megiddo Prison in northern Israel July 24, 2018. Picture taken July 24, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
A group of NGOs filed a petition with the High Court of Justice on Thursday requesting that imprisoned Palestinians defined as “security” prisoners and detainees be allowed to maintain telephone contact with their families during the current corona lockdown.
HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual led the group of seven human rights organizations saying that it filed the petition, “in light of the prolonged isolation of thousands of people from their families following the cancellation of all prison visits due to Coronavirus restrictions.”
Further, HaMoked flagged that “the petition was filed as Israel entered its third lockdown and all prison visits were suspended indefinitely. While criminal prisoners have access to daily phone calls with their families, the majority of Palestinians are defined as ‘security’ prisoners or detainees, and as such are denied phone calls by the Israel Prison Service (IPS).”
The petition details that since the pandemic outbreak in February, “the IPS has restricted visits to its facilities, leaving the over 4,000 Palestinian security prisoners and inmates completely cut off from the outside world.”
Executive Director of HaMoked Jessica Montell said that because of limited visits during the corona era and zero or almost zero access to phone calls, some prisoners have only spoken to their families two or three times over the last 10 months.
For example, most prisoners were allowed a phone call several months ago during Ramadan, but this was a rare exception.
There was also a brief period in the summer when one family member was allowed to visit once per month, down from the regular standard of multiple family members visiting twice monthly (due to corona regulations.)
During lockdowns, including the present one, even these limited visits are suspended.
Montell also raised the difficulty that any Palestinian living in an area considered corona “red” by the ICRC has no way to arrive at the prisons since the ICRC will not travel to these areas to ferry people to visit the prisons.
Among the specific cases described is a prisoner in Shatta Prison “who, without visits or phone calls, learned through radio broadcasts that his sister was pregnant, that one of his grandmothers had contracted COVID-19 and his other grandmother’s health had deteriorated.”
In addition, the petition demands more frequent access to phone calls for detainees who have contracted the coronavirus or need to quarantine due to contact with confirmed patients.
“This demand is based on testimonies given to the organizations by prisoners who were sick or in quarantine for weeks, but were not allowed to phone their families to tell them of their condition,” said the petition.
Families of prisoners and detainees gave similar testimonies, also noting that the IPS did not inform them that their family members in prison were isolated in prison coronavirus quarantine.
In addition, the petition demands that “a system be put in place to grant all detained minors frequent access to phone calls, similarly to the pilot program currently in effect in the Damon prison.”
According to Hamoked, this demand comes months after the IPS committed, as part of previous legal proceedings by the organizations, to allow minors to speak with their families once every two weeks throughout the coronavirus crisis.
Yet despite this promise, minors in most prisons other than Damon have not had regular phone calls with their parents for the past several months, said Hamoked.
Montell added that the prisons claim they cannot allow phone calls due to vague security reasons, but that if the prisons place a staff member to listen to the call or record the calls, and if the calls are on the prisons’ own landlines, there is no security issue.
“10 months into this pandemic and the Israel Prison Service has failed to ensure regular contact between Palestinian detainees and prisoners and their families,” said Montell.
She added, “Now, with the third lockdown and the cancellation of all prison visits, thousands of people are completely cut off from the outside world…Keeping prisoners in these circumstances is a violation of their rights to family life and to humane treatment.”
The IPS responded saying that the new petition was part of an ongoing series of petitions and litigation before the High Court dating back to March.
It added that it has filed formal legal responses and that the High Court has not yet issued a decision.